Severe drought, wind gusts of 60 km/h and temperatures reaching around 25°C earlier this week set the stage for grass fires which have been blamed for four deaths in Texas and Oklahoma. Authorities believe they were mostly set by people ignoring fire bans and burningtrash, shooting fireworks or throwing out cigarettes.
The flames ripped across nearly 8,000 ha in the two states. At least 73 blazes were reported in Texas over twodays. The National Weather Service predicted a return of hazardous conditions on Saturday prompting fears that New Year’s fireworks could spark another round of fires.Windy weather fueled deadly grass fires in Oklahoma and forecasters predicted more dry, blustery weather in the region for days to come.The fires sent a large column of smoke through Oklahoma County, as hundreds of acres of land were consumed. Four people died Wednesday in the fires. Homes were threatened and two people were being treated for smokeinhalation.
A house burns in Arlington, Texas A house surrounded by trees burns in Arlington, Texas A mobile home is engulfed in flames in South Arlington, Texas
Homes burn after a grass fire swept through Mustang, Okla. A chimney is all that is left of a home after wild fires destroyed land and property northeast of Gainesville, Texas. Firefighters search through destroyed home in Cross Plains, Texas
There were no immediate reports of additional homes lost or serious injuries.Fire engines on site sprayed water on the leading edges of the fires in an attempt to keep the flames, which were being fueled by wind gusts of up to50 km/h, from hitting homes.
In Texas, Cross Plains, a working-class town about 185 km west of Fort Worth, was the hardest-hit community. Two of the state’s three deaths were reported there as about 90 homes and several other buildings, including a church, were destroyed onTuesday.
In all, the grass fires destroyed about 120 homes across Texas and about 75 inOklahoma.
Among the Oklahoma fires was one in Seminole County that burned more than 3,500ha and 50 homes.
This year has been the fifth-driest year on record for north and central Texas, where most of the fires happened. The annual rainfall in the Dallas-Fort Worth area is about400 mm less than the average of about 889 cm. Oklahoma has received about 610 mmof rain this year, about 300 mm less than normal.