Texas Tech University

Expert Available to Discuss Texas Panhandle Wildfires

George Watson

March 7, 2017


Robin Verble-Pearson is an expert in prescribed burning, fire management and fire ecology.

Robin Verble-Pearson
Robin Verble-Pearson


Residents of the Texas Panhandle and the South Plains woke up Tuesday morning to a dense haze of smoke covering the area from fires that burned all afternoon and night in the Texas and Oklahoma panhandles, Nebraska and Kansas. By 9 p.m. Monday, the fires in the Amarillo area, which were less than 20 percent contained, had burned more than 23,000 acres and threatened more than 150 homes, forcing residents to evacuate.

Robin Verble-Pearson, an assistant professor of fire ecology in the Texas Tech University Department of Natural Resources Management, is available to discuss the fire itself and its ramifications on the local ecology. She is an expert in prescribed burning, fire management and fire ecology.


Robin Verble-Pearson, assistant professor of fire ecology, Texas Tech University Department of Natural Resources Management, (501) 400-6693 or robin.verble@ttu.edu

Talking Points

  • There are currently two large wildfires burning in the Texas Panhandle, one of which is threatening several homes near Amarillo.  These fires were fanned by high wind speeds that dried vegetation and allowed the fires to move rapidly across the landscape. The fire risk for the area will remain high until we get some rain, and residents should stay alert and be mindful of activities that may cause wildfires, such as outdoor burning, welding, etc.
  • The smoke we are experiencing today is a result of north winds and a cold front pushing the smoke into our area and causing it to settle here. National Weather Service forecasts indicate it should start to disperse by this afternoon or tomorrow morning.
  • Wildfire risks are present in any natural forested or grassland area, from the southern plains of Texas to the northern prairies of Canada.
  • We aren't seeing more frequent wildfires these days. In fact, in the U.S., the number of wildfires was cut in half during the 1980s due to forest management approaches that include wildfire suppression.
  • However, over climate timescales of multiple decades, there is an increasing trend across western North America in the total area burned. That's because, in a warmer climate, the risk of having the type of hot, dry fire weather that allows fires to spread out of control is increasing.


  • "As with all poor air quality, I would recommend limiting your exposure to it, particularly if you have existing heart and breathing problems," Verble-Pearson said. "Ways to minimize exposure include staying indoors, keeping doors and windows closed, running an air filter if you have one and not using gas or wood stoves, candles or other indoor air pollutants."
  • "One important point to make - utilizing prescribed burning decreases your short-term risk of wildfire damage on your property," Verble-Pearson said. "Prescribed burns are ignited under pre-determined weather conditions, with high priorities on safety of property and life, by experienced and trained professionals."

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