Weather continues to fan Tx fires

High temps, low humidity, wind gusts not helping firefighting efforts

PALO PINTO, Texas (UPI) | April 25, 2011

High temperatures, low humidity and 45 mph wind gusts made firefighting in Texas tricky Monday after scattered thunderstorms that may have sparked new fires.

A low-pressure system propelling a dry line eastward across the state -- separating moist Gulf of Mexico air from dry desert air farther west -- created atmospheric instability that could cause fires to grow, the Texas Forest Service said.

Spring thunderstorms pounding parts of northern Texas Sunday, including Possum Kingdom Lake -- a reservoir on the Brazos River located primarily in Palo Pinto County -- helped firefighters contain one of the state's largest blazes covering 150 square miles, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported.

But the storm -- which brought softball-size hail and tornadoes -- was a "mixed blessing," Dave Boyd of the federal firefighting team told the newspaper.

"The rain is good, but storms have lightning strikes that could hit something and smolder for days before a fire starts up," he said.

Officials issued a fire weather watch from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. CDT Monday for northern Texas' western counties, including the Possum Kingdom Lake area, as humidity levels dropped and gusty winds returned.

No new wildfires were reported Sunday night, but 17 wildfires started Saturday, the forest service said.

The largest new fire was the Pipeline fire in eastern Texas' Tyler and Hardin counties, covering about 7,100 acres. It was caused by an oil well flare, officials said.

A 207,660-acre Rockhouse fire in western Texas Jeff Davis County, and the 159,308-acre Wildcat fire in Coke County, north of San Angelo, were reported 75 percent contained Sunday night.

Western Texas averages nearly 15 inches of rain a year, CNN quoted Midland meteorologist David Hennig as saying. But over the past six months, the area got just 0.13 of an inch of rain, Hennig said.

More than 8,000 wildfires have scorched more than 1.8 million acres in Texas this year and were blamed for the deaths of two firefighters.

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