Arkansas and Texas Fight High Winds, Dry Conditions, Grass Fires

January 26, 2009

High winds and dry weather have combined to fuel grass fires that left thousands of acres of Texas blackened.

“We’re critically dry across the state,” Nick Harrison, a spokesman for the Texas Forest Service, said.

Dry conditions in Arkansas as well have led judges in 17 counties to burn bans because of dry conditions across the state’s northern and western sections. Bans are in effect in Baxter, Boone, Carroll, Crawford, Faulkner, Franklin, Independence, Izard, Jackson, Johnson, Logan, Marion, Newton, Searcy, Sebastian, Van Buren and White counties.

As of Jan. 24, Arkansas Forestry Commission fire crews had responded to 24 fires that burned 335 acres, according to the commission.

Winter frost that has killed grass and lack of rain has left the landscape receptive to burning.

“We get a frontal passage through. Lots of times it’s dry, we experience low humidity, extremely high winds and the last couple of days we’ve had unseasonably warm days,” Texas Forest Services’ Harrison said.

Officials warned conditions across South Central Texas and the Hill Country also were favorable for fires with winds up to 25 mph and humidity dropping as a cold front was blowing through from the north.

A 53-year-old man died of burns suffered in a morning fire near several homeless camps in a wooded area of southeast Austin. The man, burned over 90 percent of his body, was taken to Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio where he died.

Crews also were summoned to a rural area in Montague County, west of Wichita Falls and just south of the Oklahoma-Texas state line, to contain a 1,000-acre blaze that appeared to have started on the side of a road.

In addition, fire fighting crews worked to contain a 1,700-acre fire to the south in Jack County, Harrison said. Two buildings were lost in that blaze, which was about 70 percent contained by evening on Jan. 25, he said.

In Jones County, about 25 miles northwest of Abilene in West Texas, a fire torched 2,500 acres. Fifteen departments and at least 200 volunteers responded to the blaze that destroyed, six homes, five hunting cabins, 20 outbuildings and 10 vehicles.

Another blaze near the Shackelford and Throckmorton county line about 60 miles north of Abilene was estimated to have burned more than 1,000 acres, destroyed two outbuildings and threatened six other structures.

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