Many large fires mostly contained, but weary region remains on alert as dangerous conditions stay in forecast

Many large fires mostly contained, but weary region remains on alert as dangerous conditions stay in forecast

13 April 2011

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USA — Although some large grass fires in the South Plains were mostly contained Tuesday morning, fire crews cannot breathe easy yet as fire danger conditions persist through Thursday.

The Texas Forest Service reported it assisted fire departments with six massive, active grass fires across West Texas and seven new smaller blazes Tuesday.

The Killough Fire in Garza and Crosby counties was 90 percent contained at 35,484 scorched acres, and the Swenson Fire in King, Stonewall and Knox counties was 90 percent contained at 103,384 acres late Tuesday.

The Cooper Mountain Ranch Fire, located 14 miles south of Clairemont in Kent and Scurry counties, that broke out Monday afternoon was 25 percent contained with 1,616 burned acres.

The region from Gaines County to Reagan County and southeast New Mexico remains under a red flag warning this afternoon to Thursday evening, according to the National Weather Service.

The South Plains, the southern Panhandle and the Rolling Plains will be under a fire weather watch Thursday morning through evening due to 25 to 35 mph winds and humidity levels below 10 percent.

Overnight low temperatures and increased humidity help firefighters’ efforts, but fire officials said combatting blazes remains an uphill struggle with the continued fire danger conditions and with resources divided among other counties.

“We’re stretched pretty thin right now over multiple large fires,” said Justin Musgraves, regional fire coordinator with the forest service. “But we’ve got more resources coming into the state daily.”

A few weeks ago, equipment from Idaho, as well as three bulldozers and three engines from San Bernadino, Calif., arrived in Lubbock in preparation for wildfire outbreaks.

On Tuesday afternoon, Musgraves requested forest service helicopters and aircraft to drop water and flame retardant in Crosby County due to reports of smoke in the area.

Airplane surveyors also took to the skies to determine more accurate damaged acreage estimates.

With the Killough Fire’s raised containment level, only about six fire departments were on scene to handle hot spots and maintain control, Musgraves said.

The cause of the blaze, believed to be man-made, remained under investigation by the Garza County Sheriff’s Office, Texas Rangers and Texas Forest Service.

The Swenson Fire was reportedly caused by a man who had been cutting a pipe outside, Musgraves said.

According to the National Interagency Fire Center website, 19,851 fires have burned 897,580 acres in the U.S. to date this year. The record year was 2006 with 25,592 fires and more than 2 million damaged acres.

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