Grass fires break out in wide area of Texas

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Grasses quickly grow soon after Yellowstone fire in 1998.
Image: National Park Service.

In the U.S. state of Texas, grass fires spread across 2,000 acres of land, destroying at least two dozen structures in the process. The fires were fueled by gusty winds of up to 60 miles per hour.

No injuries or deaths have been reported. Residential areas in Tarrant, Wise, Parker, Nolan, Burnet, and Callahan counties were evacuated as firefighters struggled to put out the flames. Fires were also reported in Dallas, Denton, and Collin counties. Many of these fires have now been contained, officials say.

In response to the fires, Texas governor Rick Perry activated the state's Emergency Operations Center at the highest level. In addition, 152 counties instituted burn bans.

Military aircraft were sent to the area to help douse the fires. According to officials, two CH-47 Chinook helicopters are on standby in Grand Prairie, waiting for the winds to slow down before taking to the skies with buckets of water. Six UH60 Blackhawk helicopters are on standby in Austin and San Antonio as well.

Sharolyn Holder, a North Texas resident, said, "My house is sitting back there with fire all around it. My son's house has already burned some. It's just so stressful."

Craig Civale of WFAA-TV said that a lack of water contributed to the spread of the fires. "We've seen areas where fire trucks simply ran out of water, tanker trucks ran out of water, and had to stop battling the blazes at these homes; and pretty much watch them burn down until more water came to the area," he said.

Officials in Tarrant County believe that a fire in Benbrook may have been started by a cigarette thrown onto an interstate highway.

Parts of U.S. Route 377 and Interstate 35 were closed due to the fires.

The heavy winds had other adverse effects for Texas residents. Around 75,000 homes in the area were reported to be without power in the afternoon due to the wind knocking down several power lines.

Some flights at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport were delayed more than half an hour or cancelled after the wind forced officials to limit use of the runways.