Strong Winds Fuel Wildfires in Texas

January 31, 2008

Conditions that fanned wildfires and forced evacuations in parts of Texas were expected to improve, but areas still faced the threat of wildfires through the end of the week.

The fast-moving fires consumed about 2,000 acres in north, central and west Texas and destroyed at least two dozen buildings. Two firefighters were injured when an 18-wheeler whose driver was blinded by smoke rear-ended their vehicle, officials said.

Low humidity trailing a fast-moving cold front created the wildfire threat. Roger Erickson of the weather service’s Fort Worth office said conditions were still ripe for wildfires but higher humidity “will get us a little bit of relief.”

Some fires were caused by downed power lines as winds in North Texas were reported at more than 50 mph. Power was knocked out for thousands of Dallas customers and strong crosswinds resulted in delays of about 30 minutes for some flights at the Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport. More than 26 outbound flights were canceled.

“It’s an issue of safety for us,” said airport spokesman David Magana.

“When that wind is coming from your left or your right, it presents a danger.”

The events were similar to the scenario in late 2005 and early 2006, when strong winds, low humidity and dry, high grasses and brush set the stage for massive fires that scorched 2.25 million acres statewide, destroyed more than 730 homes and killed 20 people, including two firefighters.

“It’s starting to seem like, ‘Here we go again,'” said Texas Forest Service spokeswoman Carrie Smith.

The National Weather Service said the most severe wildfire risk was expected to move further south on Thursday to areas including Austin, San Antonio and parts of South Texas. Friday the threat will be greatest in parts of West Texas.

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