At Least 500 People Flee Texas Wildfire

At Least 500People Flee Texas Wildfire

20 March 2008

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Texas, USA — A wildfire blamed on a fallen power line in the Rio GrandeValley spread to about 25,000 acres Wednesday, forcing hundreds from their homes.

A small grass fire near Laredo also caused a power plant to shut down as aprecaution for about two hours and led the state’s electric power grid to importpower from Mexico for a time.

The Rio Grande Valley fire, which started Tuesday afternoon, was 50 percentcontained by Wednesday evening. Earlier, the Texas Forest Service estimated theblaze covered about 50,000 acres but a view from the air showed it to be abouthalf that size, spokeswoman Sandra Taylor said.

Still, the fire covered an area about 20 miles long and 2 miles wide, shesaid.

Officials were keeping a wary eye on wind conditions, saying high winds couldstir flames up again.

“If the weather stays with us, hopefully we can button this down,”Taylor said.

At least four homes were destroyed, and bulldozers uprooted grass near theHidalgo County jail and an elementary school in hopes of stopping theencroaching flames, authorities said.

At least 500 people evacuated. There were no reports of injuries.

“Right now, our priority is to save lives,” Hidalgo County JudgeJ.D. Salinas said.

Deputies went door to door through the area Tuesday night to alert residentsto the threat. Edinburg North High School was opened as a shelter, HidalgoCounty spokeswoman Cari Lambrecht said.

A 40-mile stretch of U.S. Highway 281 — the main route north out of thearea — was reopened in both directions about 6:30 a.m., said Hidalgo Countyspokeswoman Cari Lambrecht.

Taylor said that the small grass fire near the power plant in Laredo wasextinguished and that the power plant was running again. No one lacked power,she said.

Dottie Roark, a spokeswoman for the Electric Reliability Council of Texas,said ERCOT issued an emergency notice and imported power from Mexico whennotified about the power plant outage. She said there was no threat to electricservice in the state.

Last weekend, President Bush made federal aid available to 70 percent ofTexas counties after wildfires scorched 133,000 acres across the state Friday.

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