Sign up for The Brief, The Texas Tribune’s daily newsletter that keeps readers up to speed on the most essential Texas news.
Gov. Greg Abbott has issued a wildfire disaster declaration for about 75% of Texas counties, allowing them to use all available state resources to respond to any new fires as the state continues to bake under triple-digit temperatures.
The declaration was issued Friday as wildfires continue to spark across the state: The Texas A&M Forest Service, which monitors wildfire conditions, reports that at least 8,500 acres of Texas land have burned since Aug. 1.
The governor’s declaration covers 191 of the state’s 254 counties, including Austin, Dallas, El Paso, Midland and Travis. Many counties across the state have issued their own burn bans, according to the Forest Service.
“As we continue to respond to wildfire conditions across the state, Texas is ready to provide any additional resources and aid to impacted communities,” Abbott said in a press release. He also encouraged residents to remain weather aware and follow the guidance of state and local officials.
On Sunday, the Forest Service responded to 17 new requests for assistance on wildfires that burned 445.8 acres across the state. Last week, the agency raised its wildfire preparedness to Level 4, which indicates a large number of fires that are difficult to control and recommends a “heavy commitment” of resources from state and local officials to address fire danger.
Wildfires have destroyed homes, buildings and forests statewide. Last week, a brush fire in Cedar Park, about 20 miles north of Austin, tore through apartment complexes and townhomes, forcing evacuations in Williamson County and surrounding areas. Earlier this year, an Eastland County sheriff’s deputy was killed trying to rescue others when a massive, wind-whipped wildfire swept into Eastland, about 120 miles west of Dallas. Hundreds of families evacuated their homes.
Wildfires, even if miles away, can significantly affect health, especially for people with lung or breathing problems, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The agency recommends that people stay inside, pay attention to local advisories and use well-fitted N-95 masks if outside when it is smoky.
Climate change in Texas has led to more intense, prolonged heat waves that help create ideal conditions for wildfires.
On Monday, the Forest Service issued an alert about an unusual August cold front expected to sweep as far south as Interstate 10 that could create scattered thunderstorms in North and Central Texas through Tuesday morning. Lightning could start new fires, and winds from storms could help fires spread quickly, the agency warned.
“This could make it tough to control fires during those days,” the Forest Service said.
The full program is now LIVE for the 2023 Texas Tribune Festival, happening Sept. 21-23 in Austin. Explore the program featuring more than 100 unforgettable conversations coming to TribFest. Panel topics include the biggest 2024 races and what’s ahead, how big cities in Texas and around the country are changing, the integrity of upcoming elections and so much more. See the full program.