Thursday marked the start of the 2012 wildfire season, meaning the 2011 fire season -- one of the costliest and most destructive in Texas history -- is officially in the books.
But the distinction is largely bureaucratic and has nothing to do with the end of the critical fire danger, said April Saginor, spokeswoman for the Texas Forest Service.
"Fire conditions are the same (today) that they were on Wednesday. We just have to end the season at some point so we can do the accounting," she said.
Across Texas during the 378-day fire season that began Nov. 15, 2010, nearly 4 million acres and more than 2,900 homes were burned in more than 29,500 wildfires. More than 40 percent of all wildfires that occurred in the United States -- and nearly half of the total acreage burned -- were in Texas.
Firefighters from all 50 states, Washington, D.C., Puerto Rico, Canada and the U.S. Virgin Islands traveled to Texas to help battle the historic number of blazes. Firefighting aircraft dropped more than 34 million gallons of water and fire retardant during more than 54,000 missions.
The price tag for all this? $337 million.
"That's easily the most money we've ever spent on fire suppression in a single fire season," Saginor said.
The true cost of the fire season could take years to calculate, she said. The forest service doesn't keep records on actual property damage, and insurance companies must finalize the tally on replacing the more than 5,700 structures destroyed this year.
In terms of federal assistance, Saginor said Texas is eligible for a maximum reimbursement of only $39 million, meaning the state will be left with a bill for more than $298 million.
"Thankfully, the Legislature has been good to us in the past," she said.
Texas lawmakers may want to throw a little extra funding the forest service's way, especially if Gary Bennett's predictions for the 2012 season come true.
Bennett, the Texas Forest Service incident commander, said the long-range weather forecast paints a dire picture for the coming year. An ongoing drought is expected to continue well into next year, and some meteorologists are saying it could last for a decade.
"We're in another La Nina pattern, like we were last year, so we're expecting more hot, dry winds and high temperatures," Bennett said. "Except last year we had a lot of rainfall, and this year we've had very little. I'd say we're in worse shape heading into the new year than we were last year."
Bennett said that in November 2010, there was a lot more greenery showing across the state. Despite some recent rainfall fuel moisture is still very low.
"Everything is sitting there cured up and ready to go like a tinder box, for when we get those low humidities and high winds early next year," he said.
Things have been quiet for about a month now, Bennett said, allowing the forest service to release most of the out-of-state resources.
Fires still have been breaking out, but higher humidity and lower temperatures helped local fire departments contain them quickly.
"We have been able to send quite a few people home, but we still have a few folks pre-positioned in places in case things kick off. We've got folks in Fort Stockton and Lubbock, just waiting," he said.
"Based on what we're seeing, we think things are really going to start rolling in late December, early January. That's when we'll start to build the command post back up with resources," Bennett said.
Greg Kendall-Ball is a reporter for The Abilene Reporter-News in Texas