Texas Wildfires a Perfect Storm

Wildfires burning 25 miles west of Austin, Texas. Photo courtesy of the NBC Affiliate KXAN-Austin.

Emergency personnel brought the wildfires that have ravaged central Texas under control today, heading off a blaze that leveled five hundred homes and forced the evacuation of thousands in rural Bastrop County. The conflagration cut a destructive path that broke state records, serving as a potent reminder of what happens when environmental disaster meets myopic policy-making.

This year has been a scorcher even by Texan standards. Earlier today, the National Weather Service confirmed that that the last three months in Texas have seen the hottest temperatures ever recorded in American history. This heat has been accompanied by a drought that shattered state records and continues its devastation of local water supplies, costing Texas farmers and ranchers an estimated $5.2 billion this year. These factors have combined to create wildfires that reached new heights in recent days, burning down acreage approximately the size of Connecticut.

Map depicting extreme drought conditions across the state of Texas in April, 2011.

These conditions have been exacerbated through decisions made by Governor Rick Perry and the state legislature. In a session that met this past spring, the Texas legislature slashed the state Forest Service budget by 31 percent. Compounding this was even more draconian cuts to volunteer fire departments, the first responders to this sort of situation in rural areas, amounting to 75 percent of their state funding. Despite the fact that wildfires were raging across the state as they deliberated, Texas legislators pushed through severe budget cuts to the two point agencies for this exact type of crisis.