Firefighters Battle Wildfires Across West Texas

by
April 11, 2011

NPR

Firefighters from 25 states were battling more than a dozen blazes across much of West Texas on Sunday in what state forest service officials called the single worst fire day the state has ever seen.

A fast-moving wildfire had spread to more than 60,000 acres Sunday in Presidio County and Jeff Davis County, where it destroyed about 20 homes in Fort Davis, about 200 miles southeast of El Paso. Widespread electricity outages were reported after numerous power poles burned.

But the blaze that started Saturday night missed the nearby McDonald Observatory, one of the world’s leading astronomical research facilities, which instead was used as an evacuation shelter, said assistant director Anita Johnson.

Revis Daggett, co-owner of Wayside Inn B&B in Fort Davis, called the situation “gut-wrenching.”

“It’s very personal and it’s quite surreal,” said Daggett, whose business was safe from the flames as of Sunday afternoon. “And you look around and you just keep thinking, ‘Well, you can’t control the fire, so what are the possibilities it comes back at you?”‘

Sunday’s hot, windy conditions and low humidity, combined with withered shrubs and grasses caused by the drought, made for dangerous conditions, Texas Forest Service spokesman Alan Craft said.

Air tankers usually used to douse such massive fires could not be flown Sunday because of wind gusts of 40 to 50 mph, Craft said.

Firefighters continued battling a 71,000-acre fire in Stonewall, King and Knox counties, Craft said. The fire has been burning since Wednesday after it was started by a cutting torch being used on pipe near the community of Swenson, about 175 miles west of Fort Worth.

Also in West Texas, firefighters had contained a 16,000-acre in Midland County where up to 40 homes and other buildings were destroyed, Craft said.

 

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