The stories coming out of the charred remains of Texas’ massive wildfires are heart rendering – homes destroyed, lives turned upside down, livestock lost and injured. And it appears no relief is in sight.
The situation in parts of West Texas have become so severe that officials in Tom Green County, with San Angelo as its county seat, have asked constituents to seek divine help by issuing a proclamation this week encouraging people to pray for rain. “We certainly need it,” says County Judge Mike Brown.
In just the seven days leading up to this Wednesday, firefighters responded to 81 fires that charred 442,461 acres. More than 900 firefighters from Texas and 33 additional states are fighting high winds and dry conditions that haven’t been seen in more than 100 years, Texas Forest Service (TFS) officials say.
Predictions are for conditions to continue to worsen. “The last week has been bad, but now even more people will be at risk,” says Tom Spencer, TFS Predictive Services department head. “The wildfires could reach down into more densely populated areas.”
Wednesday, the TFS expanded its target area for potential wildfires to include parts of North, Central and South Texas, extending from a line west of Dallas-Fort Worth and south to Fredericksburg and Del Rio. Previously, the main areas of concern were the more sparsely populated Texas Panhandle and West Texas.
The month of March in Texas, usually a time of spring rains, was listed as the driest March in recorded history. High winds and heavy fuel loads due to last fall’s rains combine to make tinder-box conditions.
“We’ve experienced accelerated drying for the last 14 days,” TFS Fire Operations Chief Mark Stanford said Wednesday. “We’re really in uncharted territory here where weather will dominate the landscape, and vegetation is at record dry levels for this time of year.”
Meanwhile, the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association (TSCRA) encourages all ranchers whose cattle were on burned pasture to have their cattle inspected by a veterinarian for burns and other trauma from fires.
It is critical to have cattle inspected as life-threatening conditions, difficult to diagnose without training, may occur within 2-3 days of the fire. Ranchers should contact their local veterinarians for inspection.
Ranchers should also assess fences, buildings, other property and livestock damages as quickly as possible and report all damage to their county Extension agent.
Ranchers with emergency hay needs or those who wish to donate supplies are encouraged to contact the following livestock supply points:
• Stonewall County Livestock Supply Point; Stonewall County Fair Grounds, Hwy 380, Aspermont, TX; contact Jason Miller at 940-989-3510 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
• Jeff Davis County Livestock Supply Point; Red Barn Ranch, 1 mile South of Ft. Davis; contact Logan Boswell at 432-837-6207 or email@example.com.
Eligible ranchers who experienced losses as a result of the wildfires can also apply for benefits through the Livestock Indemnity Program (LIP) administered by USDA's Farm Service Agency (FSA).
LIP provides assistance to producers for livestock deaths that result from natural disasters including wildfires. Eligible losses must have occurred on or after Jan. 1, 2008, and before Oct. 1, 2011.
For more information on LIP, the LIP application process and other FSA programs, contact your local FSA office or visit www.fsa.usda.gov/tx.
A notice of loss must be filed with FSA within 30 days of when the loss of livestock is apparent. Livestock that die within 60 days of the date of the qualifying event, but prior to Oct. 1, 2011 will be considered eligible for loss benefits.
Those wishing to make monetary donations can contact the Texas Department of Agriculture (TDA), which has activated the State of Texas Agriculture Relief (STAR) fund. Donations will be tax-deductible and TDA will work with industry partners to use the funds the most appropriate way. Go to the STAR fund website at www.texasagriculture.gov.
For more information, visit TSCRA's Wildfire Resource page at www.tscra.org/wildfires.html or the Texas Forest Service at texasforestservice.tamu.edu.