SATURDAY WILDFIRE UPDATE: Big Country still under attack

SATURDAY WILDFIRE UPDATE: Big Country still under attack

16 April 2011

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USA — Wildfires continued to ignite and flair up Saturday as a monstrous blaze continued to rage in Scurry County, two more merged east of Abilene into one powerful fire and a new fire sparked in Eastland County near Cisco.

By day’s end, skies again were muddy in color with the setting sun shining weakly through as a red ball.

Officials from the Texas Forest Service said firefighters had hoped calmer winds would help them gain control of wildfires that have spread across 700,000 acres in the state. Instead, fires continued, pushed by undying winds and fueled by parched conditions.

The biggest fire Saturday was the Cooper Mountain Ranch wildfire that began last week in Kent County and spread to Fisher County before entering Scurry County. That fire has consumed more than 152,000 acres. By nightfall, that fire was reported to be 50 percent contained.

Congressman Randy Neugebauer, who earlier appeared at the World’s Largest Barbecue in Abilene, flew over the charred landscape Saturday afternoon to assess the damage caused by wildfires that charred hundreds of thousands of Big Country acres. A firefighter from Eastland died in what now is being called a traffic fatality while fighting a wildfire near Gorman on Friday. Homes have been destroyed, evacuations announced and livestock lost in wildfires during the past week.

“We’ve got lots of acres still burning,” said Neugebauer, who flew over burned rural areas in Fisher, Kent and Scurry counties to the west and Eastland and Stephens counties to the east. “We’ve got to get those fires out quickly — as a congressman, I’d like to be able to bring about five inches of rain and stop the winds.”

For the record, the next decent chance of rain for this area comes Friday.

Last week, Gov. Rick Perry flew over Stonewall, Knox and King counties, where fires burned more than 100,000 acres. So far, the governor has not requested presidential disaster declaration. Fire departments, however, are eligible to apply for grants to pay expenses in battling the Cooper Mountain Ranch fire in Kent County, the PK West fire in Stephens County and the Swenson fire, which burned mainly in Stonewall County, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency website.

“We are receiving some requests, but I want to monitor the requests to make sure we are being as responsive as we can,” Neugebauer said.

The Texas Forest Service called for additional resources Friday as wildfires continued to spark across the state, tapping out its resources. As of Saturday, TFS reported it had 1,250 personnel on the ground from 34 states assisting with fires that covered more than 665 square miles in Texas.

Scurry County continues to burn

Smoke continued to hover over Scurry County as the Cooper Mountain Ranch fire blazed. It has destroyed four homes.

On Saturday afternoon, Pat Henry and her husband, Windle Cave, worked feverishly to put out fires that surrounded their home located in Camp Springs, which is off FM 1614 between Roby and Snyder in Scurry County. TFS resources were not immediately available when fires reignited around their home, the couple said.

“They (TFS) plowed a trench around the house and it burned right up to where they plowed,” Henry said. “It would have burned up Friday.”

When fire started again near the trenches, Henry and her husband pounded the flames with shovels and even poured a pitcher of ice water over a patch of flames while they waited for firefighters to arrive. They were successful in getting the fire under control.

Eastland County mourns

Eastland fire crews lost of one of their own Friday when firefighter Gregory M. Simmons, died during the battle to contain a 3,000 acre blaze near Gorman.

Neugebauer visited the Simmons family in Eastland on Saturday.

“It is a solemn reminder that our first responders are putting their lives on the line every day,” Neugebauer said. “Mr. Simmons paid the ultimate price for his community service.”

Simmons and other firefighters fled their truck as it was being overrun by flames, and Simmons fell into a ditch, said Justice of the Peace James King, who pronounced Simmons dead at the scene along a rural road.

On Saturday, Department of Public Safety Trooper Sparky Dean reported that Simmons’ death is being investigated as a traffic fatality. A preliminary autopsy stated the cause of his death as blunt force trauma.

The funeral will be at 1 p.m. Wednesday at the Leon River Cowboy Church in Olden.

Five firefighters and one civilian also were injured in Eastland County fires Friday. One firefighter was taken to Parkland Hospital in Dallas with second- and third-degree burns on his hands and face. Another firefighter remains hospitalized in Eastland, with second- and third-degree burns and the effects of smoke inhalation.


As firefighters contained blazes in Eastland County on Saturday that forced evacuations Friday in Gorman, population 1,200, another fire was fought north of Cisco on County Road 104 and burned more than 2,000 acres. State Highway 6 was closed as 10 p.m. Saturday.

The fire was 80 percent contained and 20 people evacuated Friday from Lake Cisco Christian Camp were allowed to return, though officials were unsure any had. Two homes were reported destroyed as well as three unoccupied structure, Cisco fire officials said.

Stonewall County blaze rekindles

The blaze that started almost two weeks ago in Stonewall, Kent and Knox counties rekindled and has now scorched 120,000 acres. The fire was located north of Old Glory, reported Stonewall County Judge Ronnie Moorehead. TFS reported that the fire, which had threatened three ranches Saturday, now is 90 percent contained.

“It is just zigzagging across the county,” said Moorehead, who estimated that as many as 10,000 acres had rekindled in Stonewall County. “I think it has spread over to Haskell County.”

Possum Kingdom fire rages

The PK West fire in Stephens County and the Hohertz fire in Palo Pinto County merged into one long, large fire, according to Marq Webb, spokesman for TFS. So far, more than 45,500 acres has burned and 31 homes and a church have been destroyed.

The fire forced the evacuation of 300 homes in the area of Possum Kingdom Lake, TFS officials reported. It still was not fully contained by nightfall.

Another 400-acre fire at northeast part of Hubbard Creek Lake was for the most part extinguished Saturday, officials at the Breckenridge Fire Department reported.

Other fires around the STATE

n About 20 homes were destroyed in Wichita County on Friday, and firefighters Saturday continued battling three blazes, including a 20,000-acre fire in the Iowar Park area, state officials said.

n The Wildcat fire in Tom Green County had burned more than 45,000 acres and was 10 percent contained by Saturday.

Winds today are expected to reach 15 to 20 mph with gusts as high as 30 by noon but ease back to 15 to 20 mph by 7 p.m., said Joel Dunn, meteorologist with the National Weather Service in San Angelo.

Winds Saturday were gusting to between 20 and 30 mph in parts of the area after whipping in the 50 mph range a day earlier.

Rain chances are about 15 percent in the northwestern portion of the Big Country and “that’s about it,” Dunn said.

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