Okla., Texas Still Plagued by Wildfires

January 2, 2006

Wildfires continued to burn in Texas and Oklahoma on New Year’s Day, fueled by record-high temperatures, high winds and significant lack of rainfall, sweeping across thousands of acres and destroying homes along the way.

According to the Dallas Morning News, Ringgold, Texas, a small town southeast of Wichita Falls in Montague County, was destroyed when its 32 houses were swept up in a fast-moving fire.

The fire also forced the evacuation of nearby Nocona as it moved across the plains. Although the evacuation was later rescinded, 3,200 residents of Nacona had evacuated their homes and prepared to leave before the blaze was controlled to the point that it no longer threatened the town.

In Oklahoma, at least a dozen homes were destroyed on New Year’s Day by fires that burned more than 5,000 acres across the state. Two neighborhoods in Oklahoma City were evacuated as blazes threatened the city. At least four homes were destroyed there, according to the Associated Press.

The Texas Forest Service has reported that a second dry front which is expected to pass through the state Jan. 3, will bring with it yet another alarming prospect for firefighters. Even without the windy weather, though, a Forest Service spokesman said extremely dry vegetation will ignite easily and burn readily, with fast-moving grass fires likely during windy conditions.

State disaster declarations have been issued in Oklahoma and Texas, paving the way for mobilizing additional firefighting resources.

Fire control leaders with the U.S. Forest Service also have mobilized additional resources to help protect the national forests and grasslands and assist with fire control efforts on private lands adjacent to the federal properties.

When queried about fire risk in the state, Ron Haugen, fire management officer with the National Forests and Grasslands in Texas responded, “We hope for the best but plan for the worst.”

Firefighters and citizens have already been injured or killed and homes, vehicles and natural resources have also been lost to wildfires. Though careless debris burning has caused the majority of recent wildfires in Texas, according to Texas Forest Service, many others have been caused by use of welding and grinding equipment around dry grass and weeds, careless use of fireworks and improper disposal of smoking materials.

Public assistance and cooperation is needed to help prevent additional loss of lives and property as long as dry conditions prevail, the Forest Service said.

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