March 21 (Reuters) – An incendiary mix of strong winds, parched vegetation and bone dry conditions on Monday could stoke more wildfires in southwest Texas where hundreds of people fled their homes and dozens of structures were destroyed.
Some 178 wildfires have already burned nearly 109,000 acres (44,110 hectares) across the state over the last week.
State fire officials worried about the wildfire risk near the cities of Del Rio, San Angelo, San Antonio and Laredo. Wind gusts of up to 40 mph (64 kph) and humidity of less than 20% were forecast for Monday.
“We are anticipating increased wildfire potential today with the possibility for large, difficult-to-control fires in southwest Texas,” said the Texas A&M Fire Service spokesperson Erin O’Connor.
The National Weather Service issued “red flag” warnings for much of west Texas, signaling that fires can start and spread easily. Those warnings were due to expire Monday evening. A cold front was expected on Tuesday, bringing more humidity.
“Conditions look a little bit better tomorrow – at least not as bad as today,” said NWS meteorologist Mark Cunningham, who is based in San Angelo, Texas.
Critically dry vegetation was fueling the fires, Texas A&M Forest Service said.
The largest of the fires, the Eastland Complex, is seven wildfires in Eastland and Brown counties, about 130 miles west of Dallas. Over the weekend, it destroyed most of Carbon, a hamlet with 225 residents, and forced some 2,400 people in the area to evacuate. Many have been able to go back to their homes, fire officials said.
A sheriff’s deputy died in the blaze while more than 150 structures were destroyed. The 54,000-acre complex was 30% contained on Monday.
A mandatory evacuation order for the city of Lipan, 85 miles west of Dallas, was lifted on Monday after the Big L wildfire forced about 700 people to flee their homes over the weekend. The 11,000-acre fire was 20% contained, fire officials said.
(Reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Chicago and Tyler Clifford in New York; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)