Texas A&M Forest Service urges Texans to help prevent wildfires during hunting season

by Staff reports

COLLEGE STATION – Texas A&M Forest Service encourages Texans to protect our lands and all that we love this hunting season by being mindful of activities that may cause a wildfire.

From 2016 to 2020, Texas A&M Forest Service responded to 3,742 wildfires burning nearly 1.5 million acres. During that time, 37 percent of wildfires occurred during the major hunting season months of September through January.

“Texas A&M Forest Service wants all hunters to be safe this upcoming season,” said Karen Stafford, Texas A&M Forest Service State Wildfire Prevention Program Leader. “We all have a role to play in protecting our state from wildfires, so remember to do your part and don’t let a wildfire start.”

Cherokee County Emergency Management Coordinator Sergio Servin reminds folks to be mindful when using any type of heating element while hunting.

“Some people use propane space heaters, which most have an automatic turn-off if tilted over,” he said, noting that extension cords used to run power to a blind “can overheat.”

While 2011 may have been best known for numerous Texas wildfires triggered by lightning, one – the Scenic Brook Fire in Austin – was not triggered by lightning strike. Rather, the source of that particular fire was due to an unattended campfire, according to internet reports.

“If you’re warming up by using a wood fire, those fires need to be completely put out when someone leaves the site so that there are no hot ambers or charcoal left burning,” Servin said. “Even when you’re not around brush, you still need to put out those ambers so that fire does not spread.”

Other potential causes for wildfire are fuel containers left close to a fire and parking in a dry spot while leaving a vehicle’s engine running.

“We have a fairly wet season here, but if hunters are sitting in a running vehicle to stay warm, they need to make sure they’re not sitting on dry material” that could catch fire, Servin said. “I think a lot of those wildfires by main highways, that’s probably what caused them, or cigarette butts – they’re not extinguished, but stay lit long enough to trigger a grass fire.”

Forest Service officials noted that while Texas has not seen any hard, freezing temperatures yet this year, drought-cured grasses cover much of the western plains – making wildfires easier to start.

“Drought or freeze-cured grasses provide a very receptive medium for an accidental wildfire ignition and dead grass will readily ignite under a wide range of weather conditions,” said Brad Smith, Texas A&M Forest Service Predictive Services Department Head. “An additional factor that will contribute to the difficulty of extinguishing a fire burning in dead grass this year, is that there is a lot of grass on the landscape due to above normal rainfall observed over much of the state during this year's growing season. Wildfires burning in tall, thick stands of grass will burn hotter, spread faster and require more effort to extinguish.”

Nine out of 10 wildfires in Texas are human caused, and 65 percent of wildfires that occur during hunting season are caused by debris burning and equipment use, including parking in dry grass and dragging trailer chains. Texas A&M Forest Service encourages hunters to be cautious with any activity that may cause a spark.

Some simple tips to help avoid accidentally starting a wildfire while hunting and camping this fall include:

• Avoid driving over and parking on dry grass–the heat from your vehicle can easily ignite the grass.

• Always check with local officials for burn bans or other outdoor burning restrictions. Each county in Texas sets and lifts their own burn bans. Make sure you know your county’s burn ban status and if it restricts open flames and other heat-causing activities such as using charcoal. View the latest burn ban map here: https://tfsweb.tamu.edu/burnbans/

• When using a cooking fire or campfire, never leave it unattended, and always make sure it is completely out by drowning it, stirring it and feeling to ensure that it is out cold before you leave.

• If you are taking a trailer out on your adventures, make sure that the tires are properly inflated, chains will not contact the road and that any loose metal will not continually hit anything else, all which can cause sparks.

• Always be ready to put out a fire should one start. Have a shovel and water with you in camp and have a fire extinguisher with you at all times.