Weather conditions continue to fuel Texas fires
By Giulia Heyward and David Montgomery
Fueled by unfavorable weather conditions, wildfires forced the evacuations of more areas in Central Texas on Sunday, fire officials said.
Residents of the city of Lipan, about 55 miles west of Fort Worth, were ordered to evacuate as firefighters and two air tankers using retardant were dispatched to confront a new 3,000-acre fire on the border of Erath and Hood counties.
Two firefighters were injured while fighting the blaze, which has been named the Big L fire, said Lt. Johnny Rose of the Hood County Sheriff’s Office. He did not know the extent of the injuries.
The Big L fire was one of several blazes that threatened the region Sunday.
The Eastland Complex fire, a group of several fires in and around Eastland County, Texas, was 30% contained Sunday, according to a report by fire tracker InciWeb. Many of the fires began Thursday and have burned more than 54,000 acres. Scores of homes have been destroyed, and a sheriff’s deputy died while helping people escape.
Mary Leathers of the Texas A&M Forest Service, the state’s lead agency for fighting wildfires, said wind gusts and warm temperatures were helping create optimal conditions for wildfires, adding that officials were staying “hypervigilant” about the weather.
Another new fire, called the Blowing Basin fire, began Sunday near the small Eastland County community of Rising Star. It covered roughly 100 acres and was 5% contained Sunday afternoon, Leathers said.
Officials evacuated homes in an RV park that were threatened by a separate fire that covered 275 acres between Cisco and Eastland, north of Interstate 20. That blaze, called the Cedar Mountain fire, was later secured by firefighters, who were working on mop-up operations, Leathers said Sunday.
“It’s been a very active afternoon,” she added. Both the Blowing Basin fire and Cedar Mountain fire are part of the Eastland Complex fire.
The biggest threat in that group of fires has been the Kidd fire, which has consumed more than 42,000 acres and was 25% contained Sunday. That blaze has destroyed more than 140 structures, including homes and businesses.
The town of Carbon in Eastland County has lost nearly 90 homes by one local official’s count, and other small towns in the county, including Ranger and Gorman, have also sustained damage.
Although conditions Saturday brought a brief reprieve, the winds and temperature picked up and the humidity level dropped Sunday, said Angel Lopez Portillo, a spokesperson for the Texas A&M Forest Service. Portillo added that he was uncertain how long it would take to bring the Eastland Complex fire under greater control.
“We are not out of the woods at all,” said Chief Joe Williamson of the Eastland Fire Department.
Williamson, who is the local incident commander for the Kidd fire, said Sunday from the fire zone that increasing winds were sending embers from active fires into unburned areas. “Our conditions are deteriorating pretty quick,” he said.
Williamson, who has been a firefighter for 32 years, has been the fire chief in Eastland County for just over a year. He has spent most of his career fighting urban blazes with metropolitan fire departments and said that wildfires present vastly different challenges.
“A building is fairly simple to contain — four walls of the building,” he explained. The only containments for wildfires, he said, are natural barriers, and in the rolling plains of parts of Texas “we don’t have a lot of that out here.”
Forecasters are concerned that the week will bring more challenges. The National Weather Service issued a red flag warning “for elevated to critical fire weather conditions” in both North and Central Texas on Sunday. Red flag warnings are issued by the Weather Service when warm temperatures, low humidity and strong winds combine to raise the risk of fire.
While there is a chance of rain in the area Monday, according to Monique Sellers, a meteorologist with the Weather Service in Fort Worth, the forecast for the rest of the week includes the same low humidity and high winds that are “the perfect conditions” to feed the fire — and start others.
“All it takes is some kind of spark, no matter what it is, to make things worse,” Sellers said.