Wildfires kill 2, devastate 2 small Texas towns

Wildfires kill 2, devastate 2 small Texas towns

10 April 2009

published by www.chron.com

USA — Wildfires that have killed two people and destroyed dozens of homes continued roaring through thousands of acres of drought-parched Texas on Friday, but the high winds that had whipped the flames were expected to diminish.

More than 90,000 acres have burned across the state the past two days, and a Montague County sheriff’s dispatcher confirmed Friday that two people had died when fire overtook their home.

WFAA-TV of Dallas-Fort Worth quoted family members identifying the dead couple as former WFAA reporter Matt Quinn and his wife, Cathy. The station reported their son, Chris, was in fair condition with burns at Parkland Memorial Hospital in Dallas.

The National Weather Service said there was a high fire danger in the North Texas area Friday due to dry conditions and wind gusts up to 25 mph. That’s down considerably from the 60-mph gusts that fanned the flames Thursday and created an extreme danger of fire.

The towns of Sunset and Stoneburg in Montague County were devastated Thursday. Several dozen homes were destroyed, with only a heap of debris and ashes remaining. The fires that swept through Sunset and Stoneburg were among a total of 25,000 acres of fires in the county that prompted the evacuations of Montague, Saint Jo and Bowie about 65 miles northwest of Fort Worth.

Texas Forest Service spokeswoman Jeanne Eastham said no containment was shown on the Forest Service board Friday morning, but the raging winds had eased by Friday morning.

In nearby Clay County, 20,000 acres and 12 structures burned near the town of Bellevue on Thursday, Eastham said.

The high winds in most areas precluded aerial firefighting effort, but because winds died down during the evening, the aerial attack was to resume Friday, Eastham said.

In West Texas, a 35,000-acre fire in Young and Jack counties had destroyed at least seven homes and 35 other structures, Eastham said Friday.

A more than 5,000-acre wildfire near Electra destroyed one agriculture company’s buildings and warehouses, Wichita County Sheriff David Duke said. Thick, black smoke from burning debris inside the buildings as well as the grass prompted authorities to shut down a few miles of U.S. Highway 287 for several hours, Duke said.

“The smoke was so heavy that you couldn’t see, and it was pretty intense for a little while,” Duke said Thursday night. “At one point in the county we had 10 fires burning, and we were going from one to the other.”

About 800 residents and a nursing home were evacuated in Electra at one point, but they were allowed to return home by evening as the fire was contained and did not reach the town, Duke said. Several buildings in other parts of the county also were destroyed, he said.

Firefighters in Archer County were battling a 4,000-acre fire — resulting from two blazes that combined — east of Archer City, about 90 miles northwest of Fort Worth. Three homes were destroyed.

In nearby Stephens County, residents near Breckenridge were evacuated when a 3,000-acre fire threatened an apartment complex, according to the Texas Forest Service.

“This was a very difficult day, and we knew it would be based on the forecast of (dry grass as) fuels and high winds,” said Bill Beebe, a Texas Forest Service spokesman. “We weren’t able to help all the counties that asked because there were so many.”

In Callahan County, a wildfire prompted officials to evacuate students at an intermediate school and a high school in Clyde for about two hours, a Sheriff’s Department dispatcher said. Clyde is about 20 miles southwest of Abilene.

Nearby in Eastland County, a 60-acre fire that was almost under control spread another 7,000 acres on Thursday.

In Brown County, firefighters also battled a 1,000-acre blaze near Bangs that destroyed one home and threatened three dozen more.

Fires also were burning in parts of Hamilton, San Saba, Jones, Palo Pinto, Wise, Hood and Cooke counties, according to the Texas Forest Service.

More than 93 percent of Texas was in some stage of drought, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor map released Thursday.

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