Texas Wildfires Claim 7 Lives, Half Million Acres
Updated: 03-13-2006 08:09:42 AM
By BETSY BLANEY
Associated Press Massive wildfires raced across the Texas Panhandle and South Plains early Monday, burning more than half a million acres, leaving at least seven people dead and injuring at least seven more.
Four of the victims were killed in a chain-reaction crash on Interstate 40 east of Groom as smoke obscured the road. Three others died in fires near Borger, northeast of Amarillo.
"This is probably one of the biggest fire days in Texas history," said Warren Bielenberg, a spokesman for the Texas Forest Service.
The fires scorched more than 663,000 acres - more than 1,000 square miles or about two-thirds the size of Rhode Island - far eclipsing the deadly wildfires that prompted Gov. Rick Perry to declare a statewide drought disaster in January.
The earlier blaze charred more than 455,000 acres, destroyed more than 340 homes and killed three people in Texas.
Early Monday, the fires burned near the border of Gray and Donley counties in the Panhandle. Fields visible from Interstate 40 were ablaze and fallen trees smoldered in roadside ravines. Fire snaked its way across fields and sent smoke hundreds of feet into the air. Some power poles appeared close to toppling as flames burned their bases.
Bill Tidwell worked overnight in his hometown of Alanreed to fight spotfires with his shovel.
"It's burning houses down all over the country," said Tidwell, 68. "I've never seen nothing like it."
The fires forced the evacuation of eight small towns, although some residents were allowed to return to Skellytown and Lefors late Sunday.
The crash near Groom, about 40 miles east of Amarillo, involved nine vehicles, said Daniel Hawthorne, a spokesman for the Department of Public Safety in Childress. A vehicle stopped because of the smoke and was struck from behind, sparking the chain reaction, he said. Six people were injured.
Near Borger, two people died trying to escape a grass fire that consumed their home, fire Capt. Mike Galloway said.
"The brush fire overtook their house and yard and got them," he said. "The flames just spread so fast."
Eight to 10 structures were destroyed near Borger, about 40 miles northeast of Amarillo, Galloway said. Firefighters were working through the night to try to contain the blazes.
A third person also died in Hutchinson County, said Sheriff's Deputy Aaron McWilliams. No details were immediately available.
Volunteer firefighter Danny Whittington said 15 to 20 structures were lost in a fire between Pampa and McLean.
"I can't imagine what it's going to look like at daylight," Whittington told the Amarillo Globe-News. "I've seen something I've never seen before and that's cattle and horses burned. You'd think they would run, but they just stood there."
Whittington's father, Frank, suffered burns to the chest while fighting the blaze.
Bielenberg said officials are still uncertain what started the wildfires. But strong winds and low humidity made conditions ideal for the fires to spread, forecasters said. Wind gusts of 55 mph were reported.
The parched region around Amarillo has seen just three-tenths of an inch of rain since February, nearly an inch below normal averages.
"With these windy conditions and dry grasses, there was nothing to stop the fires," said J.J. Brost, a forecaster with the National Weather Service in Amarillo.
He said cooler temperatures Monday should help firefighters but winds around 15 mph will still make battling the blazes difficult. No rain is expected in the region for at least the next seven days.
Low visibility from the dense smoke forced officials to close an 89-mile stretch of Interstate 40 from Amarillo to Shamrock for six hours, Hawthorne said. Traffic was initially diverted down State Highway 70 to U.S. 287, until that road was closed because of the fires.
Mandatory evacuations were issued Sunday for the towns of Lefors, Skellytown, Miami, Wheeler, Hoover, McLean and Old and New Mobeetie.
In the town of Shamrock, evacuees arrived Sunday from Wheeler County nursing homes, Shamrock Police Chief Joe Daniels said. The Red Cross was setting up a shelter at the community center, he said.
Shamrock City Manager John Rhodes said a few hundred people, including some elderly and sick patients from nursing homes, were transported in school buses. Some of the nursing home residents were later moved to other facilities.
A separate 70,000-acre grass fire burned Sunday in southeastern New Mexico, prompting evacuation orders for up to 200 people and injuring one man, who was hospitalized in stable condition, officials said.
Several smaller wildfires also burned in Oklahoma, where some people were evacuated from the central Oklahoma town of Carney
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03-13-2006, 03:27 PM #1
- Join Date
- Dec 2002
One of the largest fire days in Texas history!Always a day late and a dollar short!
03-13-2006, 10:08 PM #2
- Join Date
- Feb 2006
- BlackHills SD
It sure sounds bad there. We got a call today, Type 3 engines leaving 6am tomorrow morning from the blackhills area in SD. Good luck
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