Fire dangers worsen for South Plains; Integrated Warning Team meets for first time

Fire dangers worsen for South Plains; Integrated Warning Team meets for first time
Dry grass and other vegetation fuels wildifres in Motley County
Dry grass and other vegetation fuels wildifres in Garza County (Source: Emily Young)
Dry grass and other vegetation fuels wildifres in Garza County (Source: Emily Young)

LUBBOCK COUNTY, TX (KCBD) - After an early April freeze, warmer temperatures and high winds will return on Sunday. As the fire dangers increase, the National Interagency Fire Center has included the South Plains and Eastern New Mexico in a new advisory, warning of dangerous fire behavior conditions.

"The fuel moisture, the fuel being the grasses that are out there, remain extremely dry," the Texas A&M Forest Service's Mike McMillan said. "That mixed with high temperatures and high winds, creates a lot of concern on our part about the potential for new fires to start."

According to the advisory, even under moderate fire weather conditions, fires have shown a complete resistance to control during critical fire weather events. The wildfire experts believe any new or ongoing fires will see extreme to unprecedented fire grown and intensity and typical barriers such as roads and already burned areas cannot be depended on.

"Roads always act as a natural barrier and they help us when we have a wildfire," McMillan said. "But, when you've got 30 mph winds blowing across the roads, that creates extreme challenges for fire fighters."

On critical days, Lubbock County Emergency Management continues to order several local fire crews to respond to fires and stations personnel with county road and bridge equipment across the area to help with containment. Representatives with LCEM and the Forest Service joined Lubbock's National Weather Service for an Integrated Warning Team meeting at the City of Lubbock's new Emergency Operations Center on Thursday.

"The integrated warning team is made of the main players that work together to help keep the public safe," National Weather Service Warning Coordination Meteorologist Jody James said. "We are all on the same team. That involves the media and the emergency management and the NWS. We're just getting to know each other better. We're talking through issues, communication and just preparing to work together so if we do have a disaster or emergency, especially a weather one, that we all know each other, we know how we function as far as that integrated warning team. It not only benefits us but it benefits the public and all the jurisdictions in the local area that were represented there."

James said communication among state and local agencies included in the IWT in emergency situations is vital to the safety of the public.

"Those are all the partners involved in severe weather," James said. "Those are the main players in the local community and regional area that are making decisions, watching the weather and getting that information out to the public to stay safe."

Severe weather right now continues to be fire weather. Experts urge the public to be aware and take every precaution to avoid sparking a fire.

"When you drive off the road the grasses can become ignited when a hot undercarriage of a vehicle or ATV contacts that," McMillan said. "This includes work activities, welding on fences and things like that. This weekend is a time when we want people to be especially careful with their outdoor activities."

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