Three of the four driest counties in the state—Gregg, Harrison and Marion Counties— border Upshur County on the northeast, east and south. (The other driest county is Panola, south of Gregg County.)
According to a fire-condition map accessed through the Texas Forest Services web site, all of East Texas is at moderate to extremely high risk of fire danger.
Upshur County AgriLife Extension Agent Jessica Stahn said that, even though it’s been dry, “we got more rain than surrounding counties.”
She said that local hay production, however, “was not at its peak” because of the lack of moisture. “We didn’t get as many cuttings as we would like,”
She said that Upshur fared better than its neighbors because “we are closer to the I-30 corridor from where (which direction) the rain has been coming from.”
Gilmer City Manager Jeff Ellington said that this summer, the city water department had no trouble meeting demand, and no restrictions had to be placed on usage.
“We made it all right,” he said. “We watched it pretty closely and didn’t get into any critical stages. We have good wells, and they held up pretty good.”
The city gets all of its water from deep wells. Ellington said that ground water does not have to be treated as thoroughly as surface water does.
Meanwhile, the Texas Forest Service advises that fire danger remains significant, in Upshur County as well as elsewhere in the state.
State wildfire control leaders caution that dry conditions already prevail across most of East Texas, and the extended outlook for continued dry weather through next week means that wildfire danger is likely to persist and even increase in the coming days.
A recent report issued by the Texas Forest Service noted that continuing dry conditions could bring a significant increase in the number of accidental ignitions.
The Gilmer area, which has had less rain than some parts of the county, recorded only .85 inch in September and only 1.36 inch in August. New low temperature for the season was 40 degrees at the airport station early Tuesday.
Moderate fire danger is forecast for much of the East Texas region, but areas in northeast and southeast Texas will be at higher risk.
Persistent dry conditions in the timber fuels in parts of Marion, Harrison, Cass, Gregg, Rusk, Panola and Upshur Counties in northeast Texas and Jasper and Newton Counties in southeast Texas provide the potential for daily initial attack activity, according to the Texas Forest Service report.
A recent 85-acre fire in Marion County gives evidence of the dry conditions.
“When we see dry fuels and relative humidity below 25 percent in the timber fuels, we see a significant increase in the number of accidental ignitions,” said Brad Smith, TFS fire behavior analyst. “The fires should not be difficult to control with the low wind speed but fire departments should expect an increase in suppression requests through the weekend.”
That level was forecast for East Texas for this last weekend.
A website graphic showing the Keetch-Byram Drought Index indicates that some northeast Texas counties have drought index level in the 700-800 range, the highest drought category. KBDI values for most other East Texas counties fall in the 600-700 range.
National forests in East Texas are also drying out, according to Gay Ippolito, public affairs officer for the National Forests and Grasslands in Texas.
“We’ve also noticed the drying trend in the national forests, and we’re very concerned about the forecast showing no rain through next week,” said Ippolito. “Our fire suppression crews note that recent wildfires in the national forests have burned moderately. Given the dry conditions, higher winds would greatly increase the difficulty of control.”
Ippolito noted that the Sabine National Forest had experienced three fires within the last week, a 260-acre blaze identified as human-caused and two smaller fires – three and 14 acres – attributed to a downed power line.
This week, Oct. 3-9, is National Fire Prevention Week. Given the dry conditions that exist across most of east Texas, this year’s fire safety observance is especially timely.
The majority of East Texas fires are caused by unsafe burning of household trash, brush piles, leaves and other debris.
Two simple safety measures can eliminate most escaped fires. Create a wide firebreak down to bare dirt around any outdoor fire, including burn barrels, and stay with your fire until it is out cold.