As wildfire threat increases in San Antonio, we look back at the worst fires in Texas history

2011 was a particularly bad year, with nearly 4 million acres burned

Smoke from Oak Grove wildfire (Texas A&M Forest Service)

The concern of costly, out-of-control wildfires are growing by the day. Tuesday’s fire in Cedar Creek is an example of how quickly these fires can spread.

A record drought, combined with heat, low humidity and gusty winds, could lead us into a situation like we experienced in 2011.


The Texas Forest Service, the agency in charge of battling larger wildfires, has become increasingly busy. Resources are needed across the state. The concern lies with the current conditions, which are aiding in fires that are not easy to control. If your lawn looks like mine -- brown and crunchy -- you know what I’m talking about. There’s plenty of fuel for the fire, quite literally. And the forecast for the next several days shows the risk for wildfires growing.

Forecast fire danger for Wednesday per the Texas Forest Service (Copyright 2023 by KSAT - All rights reserved.)


Keep in mind that reliable records for wildfires only date back to 1980s, so we’re dealing with a small window. Still, the data gives us good info for when and where some of the worst wildfires have occurred. Also of note, “complex fires” are sets of fires burning relatively close to one another and are managed as a whole. 2011 remains one of Texas’s worst years, with more than 30,000 fires reported and nearly 4 million acres burned.

  • EAST AMARILLO COMPLEX FIRE: This is by far the largest complex fire in Texas since records have been kept. The East Amarillo Complex ignited on March 12, 2006, and burned 907,245 acres across nine counties in the Texas Panhandle. Propelled by strong winds and extremely dry conditions, 12 people were killed by the complex fire.
Strong winds and dry weather propelled fast-moving grass fires in northern Texas on March 12, 2006. This image, taken by the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Aqua satellite, outlines active fires in red. (NASA)
  • BASTROP COUNTY COMPLEX FIRE: The costliest fire in Texas history, the Bastrop County Complex fire burned 1,673 homes in the September 2011. It was also responsible for two deaths. Caused by gusty winds blowing down power lines, more than 34,000 acres burned, much of which was pine forest. It took nearly three weeks to get the fire contained. KSAT covered the fires extensively, due to the close proximity.
  • PK COMPLEX FIRE: As part of the 2011 fire outbreak, the PK Complex Fire occurred just five months before Bastrop. It burned nearly 127,000 acres and destroyed 168 homes near the popular Possum Kingdom Lake in Stephens, Young, and Palo Pinto County. It burned for 34 days and was likely caused by a lightning strike. The PK Complex Fire currently ranks as the third-most destructive wildfire in Texas history.
  • CROSS PLAINS FIRE: Occurring in December of 2005, this unusual fire took shape across a relatively flat, treeless area. A cold front kicked up winds and humidity plummeted. The result was a fire that moved quickly, with spread rates exceeding 324 feet a minute. More than 7,000 acres burned, while 116 homes were destroyed. Sadly, two people died as a result of the fire.
  • EASTLAND COMPLEX: This fire occurred just last year, as part of our current drought. Multiple fires erupted southwest of Eastland (just west of Fort Worth) in April of 2022. The combined name was the Eastland Complex. It torched more than 54,000 acres and resulted in the loss of one life. In addition, 158 homes were destroyed.
A Texas Army National Guard CH-47 Chinook helicopter passes after unloading water onto a burning field on March 18 as crews battle the Eastland Complex fire between Abilene and Fort Worth. (Larry Sunde Via Reuters)


Data tells us that destructive wildfires most often occur in La Nina years. This is because these years tend to be drier than normal. Since 2005, fires that occurred in La Nina years only accounted for 3% of all wildfires, yet they are responsible for 49% of the acres burned. Bottom line: the stretch of drought years that we are currently in unfortunately set up well for a busy wildfire season.


Here are some important tips to remember during fire season.

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About the Author:

Justin Horne is a meteorologist and reporter for KSAT 12 News. When severe weather rolls through, Justin will hop in the KSAT 12 Storm Chaser to safely bring you the latest weather conditions from across South Texas. On top of delivering an accurate forecast, Justin often reports on one of his favorite topics: Texas history.