AMARILLO, Texas (KAMR/KCIT) – According to the most recent forecast from the Texas A&M Forest Service, the potential for wildfire activity across the Texas Panhandle is expected to increase through the week, with particular risk on Wednesday throughout most of the state.

This follows a heightened risk of wildfire activity in the previous week as well, which the service said was due to a mixture of fronts moving through the region and high winds. As noted previously by the service, Texas tends to experience increased wildfire activity from mid-February through mid-April during the dormant fire season, when freeze-cured grasses mix with increased wind speeds and dry cold fronts can turn the region into a tinderbox.

via the Texas A&M Forest Service

The coming week will also mark the six-year anniversary of the beginning of a devastating string of nearly 30 wildfires around the High Plains in 2017, which stretched from the end of February into March, and featured downed power lines, destroyed homes, killed cattle and burned altogether more than 1.3 million acres. As recorded by the National Weather Service, Feb. 23 2017 saw nine wildfires, Feb. 28 saw seven, and March 6 saw at least 13 scorch the Texas and Oklahoma Panhandles.

Feb. 23, according to the NWS, featured 35 to 45 mph winds with gusts near 60 mph, with the wildfires beginning in the afternoon in the area of Dalhart. Fires led to evacuations in Dalhart, the destruction of at least five homes in Amarillo, and the temporary closure of FM 1319 from HW 136 to Sanford. It was also the day of the LIT Ranch Fire, which began in Oldham County and spread into both Deaf Smith and Potter Counties through the evening. By the time it was contained, the LIT Ranch Fire was reported to have burned around 13,500 acres.

via the National Weather Service

Days later, Feb. 28 was recorded as having featured around seven fires, which began in a grass field near Ridgecrest Elementary School around 12 p.m. It was followed by wildfires in the northern residential area of Amarillo, Hutchinson County, north of Pampa, Hartley County, Dawn Town, and Lake Tanglewood.

After not even a week, as recorded by the NWS, March 6 saw at least 13 wildfires across the Texas and Oklahoma Panhandles. Over the course of the afternoon after the first fire was reported in Beaver County, wildfires included:

  • Beaver County, Okla. – Starbuck wildfire
    • 662,687 acres
    • Evacuation declared for Gate, Okla.
  • Dumas Complex wildfire – Reclamation wildfire, Willow Vista wildfire, Bluebonnet wildfire, Folsom wildfire
    • 28,800 acres
    • Evacuation declared for 150 homes, at least three firefighters injured
  • Ochiltree County – Perryton wildfire
    • 318,056 acres
    • Determined to be the third largest wildfire in Texas history by the Texas A&M Forest Service, evacuated homes near Canadian and resulted in the death of one person and several cattle.
  • North of Pantex and the Amarillo Rick Husband International Airport – East fire
    • Merged with the Dumas Complex wildfire
  • Gray County – Lefors East wildfire
    • 135,000 acres
    • Evacuated towns of Mobeetie, Wheeler, and Lefors, and resulted in the deaths of three people and a number of cattle.
  • Texas County, Okla. – Hooker fire
  • Gray County – Near CR 21 and SH 152, as well as north of McLean
  • Beaver County, Okla. – Beaver wildfire
    • 2,962 acres

According to the NWS, about 4,000 livestock were estimated to be killed in the Texas Panhandle by the fires and the total damages were estimated to be around $25.1 million. The Perryton Fire was noted by the forest service to have only been surpassed by the Big Country fire of 1988 and the East Amarillo Complex fire of 2006 in scale.

As the High Plains remembers the fires of years past and heads into its next fire season, organizations such as the forest service have continued to offer a range of educational materials as well as resources for wildfire preparation and recovery.

Check here for today’s Amarillo, Canyon, and High Plains regional forecast and weather radar.