Firefighters continue to manage large wildfires

The panhandle of Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas experience wildfire outbreaks

COLLEGE STATION, Texas – On Wednesday, Dec. 15, a Southern Plains Wildfire Outbreak occurred across the panhandle of Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas. This weather phenomena is identified by critical to extreme fire weather combined with critically dry fuels, above normal temperatures, high wind speeds and significant wildfire activity.

State, federal and local firefighters responded to five wildfires on Wednesday. The Texas A&M Forest Service and Texas Intrastate Fire Mutual Aid System (TIFMAS) also responded. As of yesterday, three large wildfires were still active for an estimated 23,055 acres burned. This includes the following still-burning:

  • North 207 Fire in Carson County,
  • the Parker Creek Fire in Oldham County
  • and the Belcher Complex in Wichita County.

“We expected wildfire ignitions to occur under these extreme conditions, and preemptively moved personnel and equipment to areas of concern,” said Wes Moorehead, Texas A&M Forest Service Fire Chief.

Yesterday, wildfires across the panhandle showed extreme fire behavior. As a result of high wind speeds, these wildfires moved quickly across the landscape and were difficult to control. This prompted firefighters to use more defensive tactics.

Winds began to slow down throughout the day, giving crews the opportunity to take a more offensive approach. Firefighters worked well into the early morning by constructing more direct fire-line. They worked along the fire’s edge, where topography allowed to make significant progress on containing the wildfires.

North 207 Fire in Skellytown

The North 207 Fire started in Carson County, approximately 8.5 miles west of Skellytown. It quickly escaped initial attack efforts. The wildfires were moving fast, prompting local officials to evacuate residents of Skellytown. Federal, state and local firefighters performed a tactical firing operation, several miles long, between the head of the fire and the town. Through this operation, the fire was successfully pushed north around Skellytown without damaging structures in town. Since then, evacuations were lifted and forward progression of the fire has stopped. As of now, the fire is an estimated 15,000 acres and 30% contained.

Parker Creek Fire in Oldham County

The Parker Creek Fire in Oldham County started south of Channing. It spread rapidly through tall, freeze-cured grass to approximately 14 miles long and half a mile wide. Several roadways throughout the fire area were closed due to the wildfire but have reopened. The fire is now an estimated 7,000 acres and 75% contained.

Belcher Complex in Wichita County

The Belcher Complex in Wichita County is made up of five wildfires in proximity that are being handled as one. The complex is burning about five miles southeast of Iowa Park. It is currently 1,119 acres and 95% contained. Several roadways were closed due to the wildfires but have reopened.

Yesterday, aviation resources were available to help throughout the day. Resources had limited opportunities to fly, though, due to high wind speeds. Two large airtankers, along with three single engine air tankers, dropped 11,569 gallons of retardant throughout the afternoon. As a result, the spread of wildfires slowed down.

“Life safety, of both the public and first responders, will always be the number one priority,” said Moorehead. “All personnel involved demonstrated teamwork and coordination for a quick, effective and safe response.”

You can find current conditions and wildfire outlook by visiting the Texas Fire Potential Outlook.

Texas A&M Forest Service does not own any aviation resources but instead uses federal aviation contracts through the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management for all firefighting aircraft.