April 22, 2011 / 12:33 PM / in 8 years

Cooler, wet weather gives Texas firefighters a break

AUSTIN (Reuters) - Improved weather conditions allowed Texas firefighters to mount an offensive overnight against wildfires that have charred more than 1.8 million acres across the state and killed two responders this year, officials said on Friday.

Texas Governor Rick Perry makes remarks at the Conservative Political Action conference (CPAC) in Washington, February 11, 2011. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

With diminished wind speeds and increased moisture in the air, as well as modest rainfall, the roughly 1,800 firefighters contained nine wildfires overnight and waged battle against the remaining fires that still spans 600,000 acres.

“When conditions turn like that we take the advantage and aggressively work on these fires,” said Texas Forest Service Spokeswoman Holly Huffman.

Firefighters grappled on Thursday with roughly 17 fires raging across nearly 900,000 acres.

The blazes, which have destroyed more than 200 homes, have been whipped by wind gusts and fueled by brush dried out by record low humidity.

Forest service officials said Texas’s drought is so extreme that better weather won’t help much in the long term.

“We’re early in the fire season and it’s so dry already. It’s going to be a long, hot summer and a long fire season,” said Doug Vroman, a spokesman for the Texas Forest Service.

Weather conditions by Monday are expected to return to the severe dry level where they have been for the last few weeks.

“We are expecting more fires to crop up so we want to take this advantage and get them controlled and contained,” Huffman said.

The forest service is currently using nearly every available water and retardant tanker in the country after Texas Gov. Rick Perry called for federal assistance Monday, Huffman said.

Perry had called for three days of prayer for rain on Thursday.

More than 1.8 million acres have burned in the state since January 1, just 100,000 acres less than the entire year of 2006, the worst year ever, when wildfires charred more than 1.9 million acres.

Reporting by Ben Wermund in Austin and Eric Johnson in Chicago; Editing by James Kelleher

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