Dry winds, parched grasses fueling Texas wildfires, NASA says

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Dry winds and drought-stricken grasses are fueling wildfires ravaging Texas, Oklahoma and Arkansas this month, according to NASA’s Earth Observatory. 

Citing the Texas A&M Forest Service, the agency wrote that nearly 180 blazes have burned more than 108,000 acres across Texas in the past week. 

The Eastland Complex has scorched more than 85 square miles west of Dallas.

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NASA said at least three first responders have died in Texas and Oklahoma while responding to the fires.

Deputy Sgt. Barbara Fenley died while going door-to-door in Eastland County telling residents to evacuate. It is unclear how or when she died. About 18,000 people live in the county. 

The GOES-East weather satellite has monitored the smoke from the wildfires in the two states. 

“The fires are being fueled by favorable weather conditions including warm temperatures, low humidity and strong winds,” NOAA Satellites tweeted on Monday.

NASA said that, on Sunday, the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Aqua satellite acquired images of fires scattered across the southern Plains.

The natural-color image is it shared is overlaid with red boxes indicating where heat signatures indicative of fire were detected by MODIS. 

The false-color image combines visible and shortwave infrared light, with active fires appearing orange, burn scars are brown, unburned vegetation is green, lakes and reservoirs are navy blue and developed areas are gray.

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NASA said the Kidd Fire is one of seven that have been group into the Eastland Complex, igniting on March 17 and moving across more than 42,000 acres including most of the town of Carbon.

“On March 20, strong winds fueled new fires in grasslands in Oklahoma, Arkansas and Texas. The time-lapse imagery below from the GOES-East weather satellite shows smoke streaming north on strong southerly winds,” NASA explained. 

By March 21, more than 11,000 acres had burned in the Big L Fire near Lipan, Texas. While much-needed rain was expected to aid firefighting efforts, forecasters also warned of the serious potential for fire in southwest Texas due to a strong weather front.

False-color image from NASA's Aqua satellite

False-color image from NASA’s Aqua satellite
(NASA Earth Observatory/Joshua Stevens)

According to The Texas Tribune, wildfire risk remains high for much of the Lonestar State in the days ahead, with more than 40% of it in extreme drought. 

“We are getting into a period of high drying and so we do expect to see fire activity to increase over the weekend and into next week,” Luke Kanclerz, a wildland fire analyst at Texas A&M Forest Service, told the publication on Friday. 

The Tribune noted that nearly 123,000 acres have burned in Texas in March – a number more than the previous three Marches combined – and that the Eastland Complex fire was unusually intense due to Southern Plains Wildfire Outbreak.

According to the U.S. Drought Monitor, 69.65% of Texas was facing Moderate Drought, down from nearly 75% a week ago.

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“In research published in November 2021, scientists found that burned acreage from wildfires in the western United States doubled between the period of 1984-2000 and 2001-2018. They attributed the increase in fire to a significant increase in the vapor pressure deficit, a measurement of how hot and dry the atmosphere can get. Global warming, they noted, is increasing vapor pressure deficits, which makes vegetation more susceptible to burning and the atmosphere more conducive to sustaining fire,” NASA added.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.



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