Some Texas wildfires contained; most still spreading

Some Texas wildfires contained; most still spreading

01 March 2011

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USA — Firefighters in Texas contained four wildfires and continued to fight 17 others as weather conditions Tuesday heightened the risk of the fires spreading, a forest official said.

Mark Stanford, chief of fire operations for the Texas Forest Service, called the progress significant.

As of Tuesday, 78 homes had been reported destroyed by fires, and that number is expected to increase as teams fan out to inspect damages, Stanford said.

More than 130,000 acres have burned since Sunday, and smoke from a fire caused an accident that killed a 5-year-old child Sunday on Interstate 20.

Officials believe many of the fires were started by power lines that fell from high winds.

Since Sunday, forestry officials, who were called in to assist local fire departments, have responded to 71 fires covering 136,699 acres, the Texas Forest Service said on its website. Most of the fires were across the Texas Panhandle.

The fires occurred in an area of about 45,000 square miles, the size of Kentucky, Stanford said.

Two of the biggest active fires were in Randall County, where 26 homes were lost, and Potter County, where 29 homes were lost. Those fires were 80% and 25% contained, respectively. Both were expected to be completely contained by day’s end, Stanford said.

But the 250 state agents and thousands of local firefighters tackling the blazes had other challenges Tuesday.

High wind and low humidity in the area created a high fire danger in the region, Stanford said.

“It puts more of a risk of these fires continuing to burn,” he said.

Potter County Sheriff Brian Thomas said a 61,000-acre fire in his county was ignited when a man cut pipe with a metal grinder in high wind Sunday. Austin Lynn Stephens, 52, was arrested and charged with criminal trespass because he was on private property when he was using the grinder.

Firefighters battled blazes in a dozen other counties including a 35,000-acre fire in Matador West in Motley County, and a 21,000-acre fire in Andrews County, officials said Monday. They also fought fires in the counties of Haskell, Tom Green, Randall, Howard, Midland, Scurry, Motley, Crockett, Mitchell and Eastland.

One wildfire destroyed a dog kennel near Amarillo, Capt. Wes Hall of the Amarillo Fire Department said. Authorities were trying to account Monday for the animals missing or dead after the fire tore through the Willow Creek Kennel. Firefighters were able to open cages to free at least some of the dogs before the flames overtook the facility.

As many as 27 homes were destroyed in the area and “the fire was on the kennel in a matter of minutes,” employee Chance Smith said, adding he did not have an exact number of dogs lost.

In the community of Matador, north of Lubbock, families could do nothing but watch as their homes burned to the ground.

Juan and Rosemary Segovia hadn’t been gone 20 minutes when they returned to a panic-stricken neighborhood and found they had lost everything they owned.

“To know everything you worked so hard for, it’s all gone,” a tearful Juan Segovia told CNN affiliate KCBD. He and his wife stared in disbelief at the blaze.

The family of seven is without a home, but grateful for what was not lost.

“I’m glad our family wasn’t home when it happened,” Rosemary Segovia said before falling into her husband’s arms. “That’s all I care about is I have my family.”

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