Sunday, February 27, 2011

2006, revisited?

the driver of this truck had the good sense to turn around and go in the opposite direction as he neared an area grass fire. conditions are ripe for a repeat of the 2006 grass fires that killed 11 people, 10,000 cattle and claimed numerous structures in it's race across the plains. those fires burned 850,00 acres, that is 1,328 square miles of grassland, leaving a scorched and blackened scar behind. eight towns in the path of that inferno back then were evacuated.
conditions are conducive for a repeat of that 2006 horror.  winds this afternoon have calmed to a gentle 36 mph, down from the high of 48 mph (with gusts to 69 mph) i saw earlier in the day.  acres burned today are being reported at 1200. willow creek kennels and 40+ homes have been claimed, and others damaged, in the flames thus far.  mutilple communities have been told to evacuate.

with the humidity hovering at 6-8%, with the plentiful dried grasses left behind by an unusually wet spring and summer, conditions for an encore conflagration on the order of 2006 fires is waiting in the wings.

how do these fires get started?  is there some depraved firebug at work here? is there some nut, intent on garnering a cheap thrill, out there with a zippo doing his worst? possibly, but there is a more likely source of the sparks, which when fanned by our panhandle winds, burst into hungry flames that then race before those winds, leaving a trail of ash and blackness in their wake.
many of these fires start in open country.  how can that be, you might ask?   the dried  grasses plus the howling springtime winds do not equal a prairie fire.  without a spark the two add up to much ado about nothing.  it is when you add an x-factor, the presence of xcel's, or a local electric co-operative's, transmission lines perhaps, that the equation can equal fires like the one that has burned 1200 acres today. another posssibility for the source of the fires might be a spark from the ubiquitous coal trains that wend their wayacross the plains.  an annonymous source related that one of the fires may have been started by a nogoodnik in the process of trying to steal a trailer by using a cutting torch to free it of the chains holding it.


the generator of prairie fires is often the combination of high winds and electric power lines which when whipped together by the wind can result in shower of sparks falling into the tender grasses below.  the result can be a flame, which when propelled by wind can turn into a racing inferno, scrambling fire departments into the face of danger.

panhandle folk are fond of opining in winter, "the only thing between the texas panhandle and the north pole is a barb wire fence-- and the fence is down".  at least for today the temp made it into the 70's and as the smoke cleared the reason for the fence being down came into view.

the area is under an extreme fire danger warning until wednesday.  keep the good folks of the panhandles in your prayers over the coming hours and days. aio




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