Hot, dry weather stokes raging Texas wildfires

Hot, dry weather stokes raging Texas wildfires

11 April 2011

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USA — The blazes have scorched nearly 400 square miles and almost took out the Ft. Davis National Historic Site.

Firefighters on Sunday continued battling out-of-control wildfires that had scorched nearly 400 square miles across the state, including a blaze in west Texas that narrowly missed a historic frontier Army cavalry fort and one of the world’s leading astronomical research facilities.

A fast-moving wildfire had spread to more than 60,000 acres in Jeff Davis County and destroyed about 40 homes in Fort Davis before it raged north and east. The blaze that started Saturday night in Presidio County missed the McDonald Observatory, which was later used as an evacuation shelter, said assistant director Anita Johnson.

The fire also missed Ft. Davis National Historic Site, a U.S. Army cavalry fort built in 1854 to protect a mail route from San Antonio to El Paso. It closed in 1891 and reopened after the Civil War to protect freight wagons, according to the Texas State Historical Assn.

Bob Dillard, a former Jeff Davis County judge, said firefighters spent Saturday evening pouring water on the town’s bank and other downtown businesses, while residents toiled to save their homes in Fort Davis, 200 miles southeast of El Paso. But by early Sunday, after the fire cut off electricity, the water shut off and the town’s 1,100 residents evacuated — along with most visitors in town for the Hammerfest bicycle races, Dillard said.

“It was unbelievable, just horrific,” said Dillard, editor of the weekly Jeff Davis County Mountain Dispatch. “There were horses on fire, buildings on fire, houses on fire.”

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