Spreading wildfires in Texas destroy homes

By Elliott Blackburn

LUBBOCK, Tex (Reuters) – Crews battled more than 65,000 acres of wildfires on Sunday that caused the evacuation of a West Texas town, destroyed 90 homes and critically injured a firefighter.

Fire swept through the small mountain town of Fort Davis, cutting power and surrounding the town with flames, Reeves County Emergency Management coordinator Ricky Herrera said. The Texas Forest Service reported 25,600 acres burned and 50 homes lost.

A shelter for 300 people was set up 37 miles away on Saturday in a high school and remained open on Sunday, though many residents had tried to return to the town, Herrera said.

“I’ve never seen anything like it,” he said. “Because of the mountains and the contour of the land, the fire just took off in all different directions.”

Wildfires fed by dry, windy conditions have charred more than 150,000 acres in eight days across the state, burning homes, killing livestock and drawing in crews and equipment from 25 states. Plants that thrived in wet weather last year have dried to tinder under a drought covering all of Texas. Weeks of high winds and little moisture have made every spark dangerous.

A Texas firefighter was in critical condition with severe burns Sunday afternoon after fighting an estimated 20,000-acre fire in the northern Panhandle.

The cause of the fire was under investigation, but it started in an isolated area near a natural gas plant and a few other industrial sites in an empty town called Masterson, said David Garrett, an emergency management spokesman for Moore County.

“Kind of like a wide spot in the road that has a name,” Garrett said. “The fire started in open country and stayed in open country.”

The state forest service reported 40 homes destroyed in Midland County in a more than 15,800-acre fire. Crews had stopped from crossing a highway a sprawling 71,000-acre fire that killed almost 170 head of cattle in Stonewall County, according to the state forest service. Air tankers had dropped 60,000 gallons of retardant to help slow the blaze.

In Oklahoma, where Governor Mary Fallin has extended a 30-day state of emergency she declared on March 11, firefighters and helicopters on Sunday mopped up the smoldering remains of two fires that erupted Saturday.

One wildfire in Cleveland in north central Oklahoma charred more than 1,500 acres and forced 350 people to evacuate while another struck near Granite in southwest Oklahoma, said Michelann Ooten, spokesman for the state Office of Emergency Management. Damage assessments are still being compiled, she said.

(Additional reporting by Steve Olafson in Oklahoma City; Editing by Corrie MacLaggan and Jerry Norton)

Spreading wildfires in Texas destroy homes