April 21 (Bloomberg) -- Texas firefighters are still battling 17 wildfires covering about 868,000 acres, while eight other blazes were contained as of yesterday, said Holly Huffman, a spokeswoman at the Texas Forest Service.
Two firefighters were killed and 300 homes and businesses have been destroyed since April 6, Huffman said today. Almost 1.8 million acres have burned since Jan. 1. Much of the state had less than 10 percent of the normal amount of rainfall in the past 30 days, according to the National Weather Service.
Texas is the biggest U.S. producer of cattle and cotton and ranks fifth for wheat output. Firefighters may get a “brief reprieve” this weekend as humidity increases and rain falls in some areas, Huffman said by telephone from College Station, Texas.
“We’re hoping to take some aggressive stances on the fires and really start hammering away at them,” she said. “When weather conditions are at their worst, the fire is really a force of nature. Emergency responders have to take a defensive position and focus on getting folks out of harm’s way.”
More than 60 percent of Texas is experiencing “extreme” or “exceptional” drought, the most-severe rankings on the University of Nebraska at Lincoln’s U.S. Drought Monitor. More than two-thirds of the state’s winter-wheat crop was in poor or very poor condition as of April 17, U.S. Department of Agriculture data show.
Wheat production in Texas may plunge 61 percent this year because of the prolonged drought, Mark Welch, an agricultural economist at Texas A&M University in College Station, said last week. Drought is also spurring ranchers to sell more cattle to feedlots as pastures deteriorate.
In the next week, northeast Texas may get up to 1 inch (2.5 centimeters) of rain, while western areas remain mostly dry, said Joel Widenor, a meteorologist at Commodity Weather Group LLC in Bethesda, Maryland.
Temperatures may peak tomorrow at close to 100 degrees Fahrenheit (38 degrees Celsius), about 15 degrees above normal, before moderating, Widenor said. Winds also may die down after gusting up to 60 miles per hour this week.
As of April 17, 12 percent of the Texas cotton crop was planted, compared with the average of 16 percent for the previous five years, USDA data showed.
“The dry-land cotton region will face serious issues, and some of the crop may not even be planted,” Kyle Tapley, a meteorologist at MDA Information Systems Inc. in Rockville, Maryland, said this week. “Also, the irrigation supplies may be rather low due to the drought.”
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