While hurricane season might seem like the most important time of year to prepare for disasters, residents in drought-stricken areas of Texas should also be considering how to protect themselves and their homes from wildfires. With wildfires becoming more common due to hotter and drier weather conditions, it’s important to have a plan in place in case a fire does break out.
Since Jan. 1, 2023, there have been 3,211 wildfires in Texas for a total of 110,633 acres. Texas A&M Forest Service personnel have responded to 696 of those calls for a total of 86,000 acres.
“It appears we will be dealing with dry conditions into the foreseeable future,” said Matt Ford, public information officer for the Texas A&M Forest Service office that serves Liberty County and the Houston area. “We were hoping that the tropical storm this week was going to relieve the area, but it looks like it is going to rotate further to the south.”
High winds, coupled with already favorable drought conditions in the area, have prompted Red Flag Warnings from the National Weather Service and a Wildfire Aware Alert from the Texas A&M Forest Service.
“Nine out of 10 wildfires in Texas are human caused. Most are caused by debris burning and the second-largest number are caused by equipment use,” Ford said.
In Liberty County, Ford said the Plum Grove/Colony Ridge area appears to be the most fire-prone due to people carelessly setting fires that get out of control.
“We have mobilized a prevention education team to that area as it is fire prone. We have been handing out educational material over the last week or so. We try to find areas with high foot traffic and hand out materials to people,” Ford said. “We encourage residents to adhere to and obey all burn bans and outdoor fire restrictions. We ask people to remain wildfire aware and contact the local authorities immediately if they see someone burning illegally or if a fire gets out of hand. A quicker response can save lives and property.”
One of the first things to consider when preparing for a wildfire is your emergency kit. The good news is that the same kit used for hurricanes can be used for wildfires and other disasters. The Texas A&M Forest Service recommends residents consider the 5 Ps: People, Pets, Personal Items, Prescriptions, and Personal Effects.
People should be the first priority. Make sure that you have a plan for evacuating and that everyone in your household knows what to do. Designate a meeting place in case you get separated, and make sure everyone knows how to contact each other.
“If you know there is a fire in your area, leave early to avoid being caught up in the smoke and fire, and to avoid the congestion of other people as they flee,” Ford said. “Put together ‘go bags’ with the same items you would need for all kinds of disasters. These evacuation kits are not just geared toward wildfires.”
Inside the ‘go bags,’ you can keep a change of clothing, sensible shoes, towel, sleeping bag, extra phone charger, small amount of money, checkbook, extra credit card or ATM card, small toiletry kit, flashlight, insect repellant, rain gear, mask, snacks, water and easy meals, such as granola bars and tuna packets.
If you have pets, be sure to include them in your plan as well. You will need bedding, kennels, leashes, food, water, bowls and medicines for all animals.
For the Personal Items, you’ll need toiletries, eyewear, and other necessities to make it through a disaster. If you have prescriptions, make sure you have enough medication to last at least a week.
Personal effects, such as photos, keepsakes, financial papers, deeds, insurance documents, and birth certificates, are also important to have on hand. These items can be difficult to replace and can help you get back on your feet after a disaster.
If you choose to stay with your property, make sure your family is considered first. Decide who stays and who evacuates (consider very young children, elderly or ill family members). Nothing you own is worth your family members’ lives.
Listed below are links to important fire-safety documents that are shared by Texas A&M Forest Service. Please take a moment to review the documents.