Forest service says fire season finally over, but danger remains
Faith Huffman | News-Telegram News Editor

Texas Forest Service officially closed the books this week on one of the longest dry spells and worst fire seasons on record.

It was not a moment too soon for overworked firefighters who have withstood the elements battling the traditional fire season an extended 15-plus months longer than usual.

After 515 days of the wildfire response, Texas Forest Service closed the book Tuesday afternoon on the worst fire season on record for the state.The latest season actually began on January 1, 2005, with little to no reprieve from major, sustained fire activity up until Tuesday.

Since April 22, 2005, statewide conference calls have been held on almost a daily basis to coordinate for and plan the attack on the dangerous fire season that lasted beyond the normal two month period.

The fire season-ending rainfall event that occurred in Texas over the weekend was the fifth such consecutive front containing substantial rain fall to pass through the state in the past several weeks. These fronts have served to “moderate fire activity to a level well within local response capacity, rather than the extended attack, large statewide fire response that included bringing in almost 4,000 out-of-state personnel and 500 pieces of equipment from all 50 states,” according to Texas Forest Service.

Since January 1, 2005, TFS has responded to 4,456 fires that burned 1.6 million acres.That is over and above the 24,685 fires that burned 658,835 acres that were reported to Texas Forest Service’s Online Fire Reporting System by participating local fire departments.

"The local fire departments are the first responders to wildland fires in Texas," said Mark Stanford, chief of fire operations for Texas Forest Service. "However, if they determine that their capacity to control the fire is exceeded, they request suppression assistance from us. We are called on to manage the situation and fight these fires alongside of the local firefighters."

From Jan. 1 through Sept. 18 of this year, fire departments in Hopkins County have responded to a total of 227 grass fires, plus numerous other miscellaneous fires, calls and investigations. Those are in addition to the 54 structure fires, 37 vehicle fires, 468 vehicle crashes or first responder calls county fire departments were dispatched to, including a number from each category which were related to wildfires.

Hopkins County Fire/Rescue alone had answered eight vehicle fires, 24 burn ban violations, 36 miscellaneous calls including smoke investigations, 122 grass fires, and 32 hazardous materials calls through Monday. In addition, the department acted as first responders on 11 calls in place of volunteer fire departments when those departments were busy on other calls or unavailable for other reasons. Again, a number of those calls, were related to wildland or grass fires, which burned quite a bit of property throughout the year.

Throughout the spring and summer, as conditions continued to worsen, local fire departments contacted TFS on several occasions to utilize their resources to help extinguish and control the fires.

While the forest service has declared the wildfire season finally over, that does not mean conditions in Hopkins County have improved significantly. In fact, the county is still listed as being in one of the driest areas in the region, and conditions are still favorable for rapid spread of wildfires.

That means that the county-wide burn ban is still in effect and will remain so at least until Monday, when county commissioners are slated to review conditions and consider whether the fire danger has been reduced enough to lift or ease the conditions of the burn ban during their regular meeting, according to Hopkins County Judge Cletis Millsap.

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