Valley moves to 'very high' wildfire risk this week

·2 min read

Jul. 17—Dry, hot weather has pushed portions of the Rio Grande Valley into a "very high" threat of wildfires over the next few days, the Texas A&M Forest Service reports.

The fire forecast for Monday has coastal Cameron County at "very high" wildfire levels, and that alert extends on Tuesday to most of Cameron, southeast Willacy and southern Hidalgo counties.

The rest of the Valley and most of South Texas is rated "high" risk.

"Continued triple-digit temperatures and dry conditions will reduce the moisture in vegetation across the landscape, increasing the possibility of wildfire ignitions to occur this week," forest service officials said.

Despite the heightened wildfire risks in the Valley, Cameron, Willacy and Hidalgo counties are among only around three dozen Texas counties that have not instituted burn bans.

On Friday, wildfire crews were battling eight fires across the state, although none were located in South Texas.

Fire activity continues to trend above normal for the number of fires as well as acreage burned.

Since the start of the year, Texas A&M Forest Service has responded to 1,240 wildfires that burned 497,373 acres across the state.

And this trend is expected to continue through the rest of the summer, with hot temperatures and dry conditions forecast for most of the state.

On Saturday, the forest service announced it was opening the Austin Airtanker Base at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport to assist with increased wildfire activity across the state.

"Opening the Austin Airtanker Base will increase the amount of retardant we can deliver to wildfires across the state," said Jared Karns, Texas A&M Forest Service Planning and Preparedness department head. "We will also be able to accommodate some of the largest suppression aircraft available. As hot and dry conditions continue this summer, the increased capability this base allows will greatly enhance our firefighting efforts."

The forest service has mobilized 36 contract aircraft at 17 airports around the state for wildfire response. The Austin Airtanker Base will serve as a reload station for aircraft coming and going to wildfires and is the only airport in the state set up for a Very Large Airtanker, a DC-10.