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Texas wildfires continue to burn as dry and windy conditions persist

Wildfire.JPG
Texas A&M Forest Service
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An aerial view of the Mesquite Heat Fire in Taylor County on Wednesday.

Two of the largest blazes cover more than 37,000 acres. The National Weather Service warns of “critical” fire danger throughout Texas heading into the weekend.

Tens of thousands of acres of Texas land continued to burn Friday as windy and dry conditions blanket parts of the state.

At least nine wildfires were active as of Friday afternoon, including the Coconut fire in Wilbarger county, which had engulfed more than 26,000 acres and was 45% contained, according to the Texas Wildfire Incident Response system at Texas A&M University. Wilbarger County is about 200 miles northwest of Dallas and near the Texas-Oklahoma border.

Firefighters are also battling the Mesquite Heat fire in Taylor County near Abilene. That blaze spans more than 9,600 acres and was about 25% contained as of Friday afternoon, according to the university’s tracking system. The fire has consumed dozens of buildings and homes, prompting Abilene Fire Chief Cande Flores to tell nearby residents to be prepared for possible evacuations.

“When it starts taking off, if you can see a glow from your residence, you're probably in an area that is going to be affected," Flores told the Texas Newsroom.

Other fires burning as of Friday afternoon include the Pope 2 fire in Schleicher County, which encompasses more than 2,500 acres and was 90% contained; the Dry Branch fire in Hamilton County covering 1,400 acres and 85% contained; and the Twin Starts fire in Llano County, which has affected 420 acres and was 75% contained.

Earlier Friday, the National Weather Service extended its fire weather outlook to include parts of West Texas in the “critical” category for the remainder of the day.

“The primary change with this outlook update is to expand the Critical area into a larger portion of west TX, based on recent observations and short-term guidance,” the agency states on its website. “Otherwise, the previous reasoning remains valid, with a large area of relatively long-duration critical conditions expected from eastern [Arizona] into most of [New Mexico] and parts of west [Texas].”

The wildfires and weather warnings come as a large swath of Texas is under drought conditions heading into the summer months. About 25% of the state was in “exceptional” drought conditions as of last week, according to the Texas Water Development Board’s most recent update. The percentage is the largest in eight years, according to the agency.

Nearly 80% of Texas is in some category of drought, which range from “abnormally dry” to “exceptional”. That’s compared to 44 % a year ago.