Texas wildfires made worse by changes on the state's vast landscape, scientists say

The Bellingham Herald - Scorched Texas is sprouting green. Almost before the embers cooled, nature began its renewal.

Scorched Texas is sprouting green. Almost before the embers cooled, nature began its renewal.

"There's already grass popping up in the black," said Greg Creacy, a regional fire and natural resources coordinator with the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.

Yet the signs of underlying trouble also will re-emerge.

The drought-fed fires of 2011, which have burned 2 million acres since December, were symptoms of damaging, long-term changes on the Texas landscape.

In North Texas, a shift from open grasslands to nearly unbroken expanses of extremely flammable junipers has turned what would otherwise be occasional and moderate fires into infernos of arresting power. That was the case with the recent fires near Possum Kingdom Lake.

At the same time, West Texas ranchland, with a buildup of grasses left ungrazed for conservation and then dried by drought, have become potential torches. And in East Texas, many forest tracts sold off by big timber and paper companies to hundreds of small owners are no longer managed in a way that could reduce wildfire risks.

Those conditions are making wildfires more intense and dangerous. That's especially true in Central Texas, stretching up to the low hills west of Dallas-Fort Worth.

The increasingly suburbanized region now faces the same hazard as another state in which wildfires and human safety are closely intertwined.

"It's 'Little California,'" said Carlton Britton, professor of fire ecology at Texas Tech University in Lubbock.

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