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wildfire in magnolia texas This picture was taken by Robin Cole as she was evacuating her home. This was taken approximately four miles from the fire. (Photo: Robin Cole, courtesy Kenny Figueroa)

From Bad to Worse in Texas

Epic drought and heat leads to dangerous wildfires

By Kenny Figueroa | null null , null

Over the course of the summer, Texas has sweltered under record high temperatures and watched helplessly as a drought gripped the state. Now, residents are facing a third problem: wildfires.

At the moment, there are two very big wildfires burning in Texas. One is in the city of Bastrop. This wildfire has burned more than 34,000 acres and nearly 600 homes have been lost. The wildfire has caused some deaths.

"It's a tough time," Judge Ronnie McDonald told the New York Times. "People are either anxious, nervous, upset — all the range of emotions. They lost personal belongings, memories, all those things. [But] the main thing we have to focus on is safety."

Another massive wildfire began on Monday in Magnolia, Texas. It began along FM 1486 in Montgomery Court and has since spread over three counties and charred thousands of acres.

Many people have been evacuated to a shelter at the First Baptist Church in Magnolia. Because the fires spread so rapidly, some families only had five minutes to pack precious items and evacuate their homes.

Magnolia resident Laurie Webb was at a concert 15 miles from her home when she received a text message about the wildfires. Due to the mandatory evacuation, she was not allowed back in her neighborhood. She had to beg police officers to allow her to go to her house to get her 70-year-old mother.

Webb says that she only had enough to get her mother, an oxygen tank, her marriage license, some clothes, and her dog. She is currently living with her son in Tomball, Texas. From his home they can see a huge wall of smoke 15 miles away.

Robin Cole, another Magnolia resident, first heard about the fires Monday afternoon.

"I couldn't smell it, but I was sitting in the back porch and I could see a lot of cars turning around in my driveway and leaving the subdivision," Cole said.

Evacuations were not mandatory in her neighborhood until Monday night, so she had plenty of time to pack what she wanted to save.

Cole was allowed to return to her home early Wednesday. From her house, you cannot see the flames due to the 60-foot trees in her yard. But it's possible to gauge the severity of the fire based on the colors of smoke that's visible.

But while Cole went home, evacuations are being extended in other parts of the area. On Wednesday, evacuations were expanded to include everything south of FM 1488 and east of FM 362. Magnolia ISD has cancelled classes for every grade level.

As of Wednesday, more than 9000 acres of land have been burned and about 100 families have lost their homes.

The Magnolia fire is about 86 per cent contained, while the Bastrop fire is about 30 per cent contained.

The major cause of the wildfires is the severe drought that has gripped the state. The state has not had a substantial rainfall in months, and in the summer almost zero rain fell in Texas. Some weather reports predict that rain isn't expected for at least another month.

"Without any rain, the sun heats up already dry ground, evaporating the little moisture that remains, consequently raising the soil temperature even more," KTRK meteorologist Casey Curry told The Daily Cougar newspaper. "It's a vicious cycle."

This also makes conditions especially good for wildfires. As trees and brush dry out, they're more likely to ignite when they come in contact with a spark or other accelerant.

Besides causing wildfires, the drought has also impacted the state economically, in part by disrupting its agricultural industry.

In Houston, some streets are cracking, grassy areas are burned, tree limbs are drying out and falling down, and the foundations of many homes are cracking because of the dryness. Last week, there were more than 600 hundred water main breaks across the city.

Houston Mayor Annise Parker has ordered mandatory water conservation, and those who do not follow timelines will be fined.

"While these restrictions are mandatory, we will begin with warnings and an informational campaign because the goal is voluntary compliance," Parker said in a statement. "For those who insist on not being good neighbors, citations will follow."


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