North Texas wildfires claim third victim, spur evacuations
10 April 2009
published by www.star-telegram.com
USA — A woman in Montague County died Thursday, perhaps from a heart attack, bringing the death toll from wind-whipped wildfires to three, officials said Friday.
Meanwhile, the wildfires, which continued to burn Friday, charred more than 100,000 acres across Texas and destroyed property in numerous counties, officials said.
Montague County Sheriff Paul Cunningham said the woman died after calling for an ambulance in a fire near Bowie on Thursday, The Associated Press reported.
Also Thursday, Matt Quinn, a former reporter for WFAA-TV/Channel 8, and his wife, Cathy, died when flames covered their property near Stoneburg in Montague County.
Their adult son, Chris Quinn, was in fair condition Friday at the Parkland Memorial Hospital burn unit in Dallas, a hospital spokesman said.
The blazes dubbed the “Montague County Complex fires” had already seared about 25,000 acres by noon Friday, according to the Texas Forest Service.
Much of what burned Thursday was in a triangle that formed between Stoneburg, Montague and Bowie, according to Sheriff Cunningham.
Stoneburg in southwest Montague County, was “burned over,” according to a statement from the forest service, although the number of lost homes had not yet been counted by Friday afternoon.
Other fires burned near Sunset in the far south Montague County and St. Jo on the east side of the county.
Also, the forest service reported these fires on Friday:
The “Cement Mountain fire,” 28,000 acres straddling Young and Jack Counties and stretching 18 miles, destroyed nine homes, 46 out buildings and forced the evacuation of 100 homes. It was 30 percent contained at around noon, according to Jeanne Eastham, a forest service spokeswoman.
The “Electra West fire,” 4,500 acres in Wichita County, burn into the community of Electra and forced the evacuation of 800 homes, including a nursing home, Eastham said. Several commercial buildings, but the blaze was 75 percent contained at noon Friday.
The “Two Mile Hill fire,” at least 15,000 acres between Archer City and Lakeside City in Archer County destroyed two homes in the community of Scotland.
The “Cedar Mountain Fire,” 7,000 acres, was threatening Cisco and Eastland in Eastland county.
The “617 fire,” — 2,800 acres in Hamilton County — was 100 percent contained Friday afternoon, Eastham said.
The “Roberts Branch fire,” 5,000 acres in Jack County, and not part of the Cement Mountain fire, destroyed two homes and threatened 24 others, north of Jacksboro.
The “Bellevue” fire in Clay County burned 20,000 Thursday, but the forest service was so strapped, it was unable to send any resources there, said Lewis Kearney, another spokesman for the forest service.
When wildfires spread across the Young County line into neighboring Jack County Thursday, Bryson Mayor Sheila Birdwell began watching nervously out her window.
A similar fire had destroyed hundreds of acres of pasture three years ago and Birdwell feared that this would be worse.
She was right.
The town of 590 residents was spared but at least five homes were destroyed about five miles south of Bryson — not to mention valuable pasture land, Birdwell said.
Birdwells own family was hit hard. An elderly cousin and his wife lost their home. So did the couples adult son. And Birdwells husbands parents saved their tractor and other equipment but were left with burned pasture, she said.
We were blessed, Birdwell said. No homes were hit in town. There was no human injuries or deaths. The pastures will grow back. But these poor people who lost their homes — thats another story.
When you live in a small community, you know everybody regardless of whether youre family. We all get together to help people build their lives back.
Much of the town was involved in the firefighting efforts.
While the 25-member volunteer fire department was tackling the fire, the women were making sandwiches and delivering them to the area between Farm Road 3209 and Farm Road 1191, said longtime resident Becky Caldwell.
My daughters house is the ladies command post, Caldwell said. Were just leaving to take food to the firemen now.
Birdwell said she was grateful to the neighboring fire departments — and some from the Metroplex — who pitched in to help fight the fire and provide paramedics to help Brysons crew of eight emergency medical technicians.
Right now, our firefighters are very worn out, she said. Its been a tremendous to have all this help come in, even paramedics to stay here in case we have a car wreck.
There were earlier reports of another person killed Thursday night in a Wichita County traffic wreck caused by smoke in the air.
That fatality actually happened near the Cement Mountain fire, but a highway patrol trooper said that smoke was no factor in the fatal wreck.
Tifany Perkins, 16, of North Richland Hills died in the wreck around 7:30 p.m. Thursday on U.S. 380, about a mile west of Bryson in Jack County, Trooper Jason Yoder said.
She was a passenger in a pickup that crashed into a ditch after the driver tried to avoid hitting another vehicle that had slowed to turn onto another road, Yoder said.
Fires still burned in North Texas on Friday morning, but officials hoped slower wind speeds would allow them to bring air tankers and helicopters to the battle, Kearney said.
On Friday, Gov. Rick Perry’s office said he had reiterated his request to the Federal Emergency Management Agency to issue an emergency declaration for 199 Texas counties, based on the threat of wildfires.
Perry also authorized the use of additional state resources to battle wildfires in the state.
The fires flared up around noon Thursday, and forest service equipment was quickly spread thin. A mutual air request was issued and firefighters from the Fort Worth-Dallas area loaded up equipment and headed west to join the battles.
About 56 fire vehicles from the Metroplex supported local firefighters through the night, Kearney said. A staging area was set up Friday in Decatur at the Wise County sheriff’s posse grounds, Kearney said.
Dallas Fire-Rescue was among the urban fire departments that answered the call. It sent 16 people, including a battalion chief, firefighters/paramedics, a mechanic and a communications specialist.
Dallas also sent two engines, an ambulance and a booster truck.
This thing was a monster, said Deputy Chief Tod Gillam. We just had to get things rolling.
In Wichita County, “the smoke was so heavy that you couldn’t see, and it was pretty tense for a little while,” Sheriff David Duke told The Associated Press by telephone Thursday night. “At one point, we had 10 fires burning, and we were going from one to the other.”
Closer to Fort Worth, a grass fire that blackened as many as 100 parched acres in Parker County on Thursday afternoon was contained to a few hot spots by 8 p.m., fire officials said.
Eleven fire departments fought the flames on the border of Hudson Oaks and Weatherford. Its a heavily wooded area and the fire was difficult to get to, said Joel Kertok, a Parker County spokesman.
The blaze was fueled by wind gusts up to about 40 mph and a relative humidity of 6 percent, he said.
Residents of 50 homes were asked to evacuate in the Turkey Creek, Lake Hollow and Wood Creek subdivisions, but the evacuation was not mandatory, he said.