Wildfire burning over 35,000 acres in West Texas

     Wildfire burning over 35,000 acres in West Texas

5 June 2008

published by www.chron.com

USA — A day-old West Texas wildfire has burned more than 35,000 acres and is 60 percent contained, Texas Forest Service officials said late Thursday.

The Hughes Ranch Fire was about one mile south of the Marfa airport, but firefighters hoped changing winds would make the blaze easier to battle on Friday, said Forest Service spokesman Warren Bielenberg.

The fire was sparked Wednesday when a Union Pacific railroad crew was “grinding and welding” on the railroad tracks off U.S. Highway 90 west of Marfa, Bielenberg said.

Fire crews dropped flame retardant north of the blaze early Thursday, but the flames jumped over the line and continued north to Texas State Highway 166, burning parts of the Bloys Camp historic religious site.

Bielenberg said about 60 homes and 300 structures were in danger Wednesday, but none had been damaged as of Thursday evening. The most active part of the blaze was on the southwest flank, where the fire ran for about six miles before firefighters could get it under control, he said.

Firefighters hope a change in wind direction will help contain the fire Friday when winds were expected to come in from the northeast and blow the fire back on itself, Bielenberg said.

Joe Arbona, a Union Pacific spokesman, said the railroad was working with state officials to ensure that residents and property owners are compensated for any losses.

“We truly regret this,” Arbona said. “It was clearly not intentional but we will definitely take care of folks out there.”

For much of Thursday the fire burned out of control.

“It’s kind of doing its own thing,” Bielenberg said of the blaze.

The National Weather Service has issued a red flag warning and wind advisory for all of West Texas, except Terrell County, that remained in place Thursday. Overnight, forecasters called for wind gusts up to 40 mph.

Temperatures in the low 90s were expected Friday with north winds of 5 to 10 mph shifting to the south.

Bielenberg said railroad officials met with Forest Service officials Thursday.

D.L. Wilkerson, another Forest Service spokesman, said Union Pacific was issued a citation, but said he did not have any other details.

Arbona said he did not have details about any sanctions from the state.

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