Governors in Okla. and Texas Respond to Wildfire Threat

December 27, 2005

Both Texas Gov. Rick Perry and Oklahoma Gov. Brad Henry are responding to waves of wildfires plaguing their states as a result of the extremely dry conditions there.

Henry reminded citizens that a statewide burn ban remained in effect for all 77 counties in Oklahoma. Perry ordered the deployment of state firefighting assets and issued a statewide disaster declaration for Texas.

“Our thoughts and prayers go out to the Oklahoma families who have been impacted by today’s fires, particularly those who have suffered injuries,” Oklahoma’s Gov. Henry said. “I have been in contact with state emergency management officials who are working with local authorites as they respond to fires across the state. We will do everything we can to assist local firefighters and emergency responders who are on the front lines of these efforts.

“To help coordinate firefighting and relief efforts across the state, we have activated the Emergency Operations Center in Oklahoma City. We are also working to determine what assistance might be available from the federal level.”

Henry noted that although some parts of the state had received rainfall recently, the fire danger remains high.

In Texas, state and local fire-fighters on Dec. 26 battled 73 wildfires across the state, mostly in central, north-central and northeast Texas. The wildfire threat level is expected to remain high for the next 30 days.

“To better ensure our ability to immediately respond to these fast-moving fires, I have ordered the deployment of Texas Army National Guard assets and requested assistance from the U.S. Forest Service,” Perry said. “We are working hard from both the ground and the air to protect Texans and their homes and property.”

Specifically, Gov. Perry has:

–Deployed four Texas Army National Guard helicopters,
–Requested and received two single engine air tankers from the U.S. Forest Service, and
–Requested and received two helicopters from the U.S. Forest Service. The helicopters operate by “dipping” into lakes and other surface water and carrying “buckets” of water of water to suppress the fire from above; air tankers are used in areas where there is no available surface water.

The governor’s disaster declaration activates the state emergency management plan and authorizes the deployment of any forces, equipment or supplies required for the response. The Governor’s Division of Emergency Management is coordinating the state effort and the Texas Forest Service serves as the lead agency for the response. The Texas Department of Transportation has provided equipment and assistance and the Department of Public Safety is providing security at wildfire sites.

A persistent drought has blanketed the state since early summer. In combination with high winds and unseasonably warm temperatures, the weather pattern has created the most severe wildfire threat in five years. So far in December, 114 fires in 39 counties have burned approximately 10,000 acres in Texas. Burn bans—which are prohibitions against all outdoor burning—are in effect in 156 counties.

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