West Texas fire destroys 6 homes

West Texas fire destroys 6 homes

23 January 2009

published by www.chron.com

USA — Fire crews gained the upper hand Friday on a West Texas wildfire that destroyed six homes and forced the evacuation of part of rural Jones County.

Officials originally thought the fire was as large as 5,800 acres. But after a helicopter flyover Friday, officials reduced that estimate to about 2,600 acres, Texas Forest Service spokesman Nick Harrison said.

Meanwhile, in Central Texas, one man died in a grass fire in Austin. The 53-year-old suffered third-degree burns over 90 percent of his body. After a 911 call shortly after 9 a.m., fire crews arrived and found a series of small grass fires across a 1-acre area near several homeless camps. The fire was contained by 10 a.m.

The Sanderosa blaze in West Texas was about 50 percent contained by Friday afternoon, Harrison said. Firefighters used bulldozers to dig up the ground and cut down grass and brush that helped fuel the fire.

Officials also originally said the fire destroyed eight homes. Harrison said that figure has been revised to six homes, along with five hunting cabins, 10 vehicles and about 20 outbuildings.

No injuries have been reported in the fire about 5 miles north of Abilene. The cause was unknown. The homes that burned down were scattered across a rural area near Hawley, a town of nearly 600 residents just northwest of Abilene, Harrison said.

The weather in the area Friday was favorable for firefighters, said Ted Ryan, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Fort Worth. Humidity was up from about 10 percent Thursday to 35 percent Friday, with calm winds of about 10 mph.

Working against firefighters, however, are dry conditions across Texas. While drought conditions are severe in parts of the state, they’re not as bad in the Abilene area.

“It’s not quite in a drought, but certainly in a dry spell,” Ryan said. “Anytime we are dry in the winter like this, all it takes are some freezing conditions and that dries out the grass and leaves it dormant. From a fire-weather standpoint, it is certainly just as bad as a severe drought.”

Meanwhile, a wildfire burned near Albany on Friday. Harrison said the Matthews Ranch fire on the Shackleford-Throckmorton county line has burned 1,000 acres so far. Six homes were threatened and two outbuildings destroyed.

“It is in some rough terrain, so containment remains pretty low,” Harrison said.

Abilene is about 175 miles west of Dallas. Albany, with a population of about 1,800, is about 150 miles west of Dallas.

Wildfires are not uncommon in winter months in Texas. In late January and early February 2008, fires burned at least 70,000 acres and destroyed 60 homes and structures across the state.

In late 2005 and early 2006, strong winds, low humidity and dry, high grasses and brush set the stage for massive fires that scorched 2.25 million acres statewide, destroyed more than 730 homes and killed 20 people, including two firefighters.

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