Wind-stoked fires threaten North Texas communities

Wind-stoked fires threaten North Texas communities

29 January 2008

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USA — At least 15 homes and 800 acres have been destroyed by grass fires near Paradise in southwest Wise County, officials said.

The fires were among dozens fueled by strong winds, some approaching 60 miles per hour, that were reported all over North and West Texas, the Hill Country and the Panhandle.

Many had to flee their homes, including residents of Wise, Parker and Tarrant counties.

In Benbrook, dozens of residents were evacuated from neighborhoods as raging fires burned, apparently started by a cigarette that had been tossed out on Interstate 20, north of Benbrook.

White Settlement firefighters stop on U.S. 377 near Benbrook to battle a wildfire, seconds before a speeding truck crashed into their fire engine. None of the firefighters were injured, but one passenger in the speeding truck was taken to a hospital. Photo: Star-Telegram, Tom PenigtonAn estimated 2,000 acres burned in the Benbrook area. By 7:30 p.m., the fire was contained and residents had been allowed to return to their neighborhood. No structures were damaged.

Earlier in the day, Carl Roberts stood his ground armed with a garden hose outside his Benbrook house.

“I’m spraying everything down until it’s soaked,” he said. “My neighbor is packing up, but I’m not ready to go yet. I’m staying as long as I can and keeping things as wet as I can.”

In Paradise, the fire that swept across Paradise had been contained by 7 p.m.

“All these families have lived here for a long time,” said Pastor Doug Acklie of the Flatwood Baptist Church. He visited some of his parishioners on 3390 after the fires. “It’s pretty devastating to everyone.”

Earlier in the day, 15 Wise County volunteer fire departments struggled to contain the flames that were whipped up by winds exceeding 50 mph.

Jason Stump said he narrowly escaped flames that threatened his grandfather’s home.

“They knocked on the door and told us we had to get out,” Stump said. “The fire was all the way across the field, but then the wind shifted and it was at our house in a second.”

Red Cross teams set up shelters in nearby Springtown, according to a Red Cross official.

And Red Cross teams are in Parker, Denton and Tarrant counties provided food and water for the more than 130 firefighters battling grass fires in those areas.

Outside of Azle near the border of Tarrant and Parker counties, at least three homes have been damaged or threatened by grass fires.

Dan Huckaby, meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Fort Worth, said the entire region is under a high winds advisory and a red flag warning for most of the afternoon. He said wind speeds should diminish after sunset.

Wise County burns

The fire near Paradise was still growing and dispatchers were sending reverse 911 calls alerting people to evacuate.

In West Texas, the community of Maryneal, 25 miles southwest of Sweetwater, was being evacuated.

“It is bad,” said a Nolan County sheriff’s dispatcher, who did not give her name.

A woman who lives five miles from Maryneal said the sky was filled with swirling dust, preventing residents from seeing the smoke.

Smith said it was unknown whether there were any injuries. She said firefighters were responding to another wildfire in Erath County, but she had no details.

“We’re all getting them all over the place right now,” Smith said. “Even in the bad days of the 2005 wildfire season, they seemed to be more centrally located. But they’re all over the place — North Texas, the Hill Country, West Texas and the Panhandle. It’s seems like most of the state is seeing fires right now.”

Multiple fires in Parker County

In Parker County, residents were being evacuated on Dry Creek Road west of Peaster, said Parker County Sheriff Larry Fowler. Many of the fires were being started by strong winds knocking down power lines. As of 12:55 p.m., eight grass fires were burning in Parker County, said Weatherford Fire Department spokesman Bob Hopkins.

Fires burn in, near Fort Worth

North of Fort Worth, the winds whipped a grass fire just west of Interstate 35W and Heritage Trace Boulevard, close to Harmon Road that burned the front yards of five homes near the Alliance Community Fellowship church.

As of 4 p.m., Fort Worth firefighters had responded to 45 grass or brush fires and 18 downed power lines, said Lt. Kent Worley, fire department spokesman.

One of those blazes required four brush trucks in the 2800 block of Golden Triangle Boulevard, Worley said. It was reported at about 11:30 a.m., but it seemed to be close to being under control at noon, Worley said.

Downed power lines

There were also power outages in parts of the Metroplex.

Firefighters responded to eight reports of downed power lines in Fort Worth. Tarrant County Fire Marshal Randy Renois at 11:45 a.m. said the downed lines were also causing small fires outside Fort Worth that were quickly doused.

“We started seeing, oh, about an hour ago, four or five small fires in the north end of the county near Haslet, but we jumped on them real quick,” Renois said. “They appeared to be from arcing power lines.”

With the strong winds, the Texas Forest Service is expecting fire outbreaks to continue this afternoon.”We’re pulling in some extra dozen units from East Texas,” Smith said.

“The next couple of days are looking like they have a strong fire potential but hopefully not as bad as today.”

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