Officials warn of wildfires amid dry, windy conditions

STARR COUNTY, Texas (ValleyCentral) — Local weather and fire officials are making sure people understand the severity of the dry and windy conditions, as they pose a danger for wildfires.

Rio Grande City Fire Chief Manuel Muñiz said Starr County is in a drought and said his team is prepared for potential wildfires.

“There are guys that are not working standing by just in case we need them. We brought our extra trucks from another station so we can have them prepared to deal with the demand right now. There’s been a lot of grass fires lately, out in the county area, rural areas.”   

A grassfire occurred on March 18, in Starr County, burning over 1,000 acres, according to Chief Muñiz.

“In that particular fire, it was somebody burning and that’s one important thing that we stress out there. It’s not like the past where you can burn and it will be okay. Right now, any little spark can trigger it, just because of the drought,” he explained.

Jim Danner, Valley Storm Team meteorologist, said the drought in Starr and Zapata counties may be around for a while.

“We’re not expecting significant rainfall at least going into the summertime. If that plays out to be true, then that drought is going to be extending further east as each week goes by,” he said.

He said counties other than Starr and Zapata can still be at risk of wildfires.

“You can still have wildfires in the lower valley because, at the surface, it’s dry. That’s why we’re not considered in a drought. That’s why the fire weather warning today covers the entire valley even though Hidalgo, Cameron, and Willacy aren’t in a drought,” said Danner.

Danner explained that the combination of dry and windy conditions causes red flag warnings, meaning fires can develop and spread quickly.

The conditions also pose a danger to local agriculture, especially in areas with dry forage, according to Texas A&M AgriLife County Extension Agent Omar Montemayor.

“While it is feed for animals, around this time of year when the humidity drops and the winds and the conditions that we have, that turns to fuel,” he explained.

He said ranchers are used to the drought conditions and explained that some ranchers prepare for the weather conditions.

“They may go in there and mow around the property and maybe disc around there and that will create a fire break,” Montemayor said.

He said the ranchers’ mowing and discing can create a barrier on the ground that can help stop the fires from spreading into neighboring properties.

Chief Muñiz added that burn bans placed by a city or county should be taken seriously.

“Hopefully, people abide by those rules and think of the consequences that can happen. You might displace somebody out of their homes. Not purposely, but by your careless act. Just be careful,” he said.

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