Crews battle grass fires across 3 states
'Red flag warning' through Wednesday
3, 2006; Posted: 9:56 p.m. EST (02:56 GMT)
Oklahoma (AP) -- Firefighters chased a grass fire hop-scotching across a northeast Oklahoma town Tuesday, while officials
in Texas and New Mexico kept tabs on the wind and several massive wildfires their crews were fighting to contain.
In Shamrock, the suspected arson fire destroyed an abandoned schoolhouse, a home and
other buildings as it raced through the town of about 100 residents. It took an air tanker repeatedly dropping fire retardant
to put down the blaze.
"It was jumping so far out ahead of us," said Loren Andrews, assistant fire chief
from nearby Drumright. "We were having to run down the street and look."
In the past week and a half, grass fires started by as little as a spark from a car
or an arcing powerline have burned more than 600,000 acres across a drought-stricken stretch of Oklahoma, Texas and New Mexico.
The fires have destroyed at least 450 homes and killed four people.
No chance of rain until Friday
A National Weather Service "red flag warning" was in effect Tuesday and Wednesday,
meaning heat, low humidity and gusting wind could quickly spread wildfires. The Texas region is in one of its worst droughts in 50 years,
meteorologist Jesse Moore said.
"It just seems like Mother Nature's not cutting us any slack," said Texas Forest Service
spokeswoman Traci Weaver. "They're telling us now that our first chance of rain is Friday the 13th, which doesn't give me
a lot of hope."
A 50,000-acre fire in Texas' Irion and Reagan counties,
west of San Angelo, was nearly contained Tuesday. But a 6,000-acre
fire in Erath County
that had been contained flared up again and was threatening several homes, the Texas Forest Service said.
In Oklahoma, it
was much the same scene. Fires that began Sunday and continued into Monday reignited Tuesday near Davis, Stroud and Eufaula, said fire information officer C.J. Norvell.
"This is the kind of animal this is," Norvell said. "You get a line around it, and
you think you have all the hotspots out. But just one little spark sparking out into dry grass can get some things started
In New Mexico, firefighters doused clumps of smoldering
grass and fence posts in an area just across the Texas state
line. They were finally able to contain fires that had burned 10 homes hear Hobbs,
said Dan Ware, state Forestry Division spokesman.
Investigations are under way into the cause of some of the recent grass fires. Cigarettes
thrown from cars and arcing power lines have been blamed for some of the fires. Authorities are looking into the possibility
that others, including the Shamrock fire, were intentionally set.
As Oklahoma firefighters extinguished embers near
Guthrie, where dozens of homes were damaged by grass fires northeast of Oklahoma
City, residents assessed the damage and counted their blessings.
"I've always worried about tornadoes," Aimee Cornish said as she stood on charred
ground outside her home. She and her husband had fled minutes before flames roared across a nearby field. "Never, ever did
I think about a fire."