Wed, May 11, 2011
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Nightmarish wildfires continue in Texas

2011-04-21 03:13:19 GMT2011-04-21 11:13:19(Beijing Time)

MINERAL WELLS, Texas - Firefighters in Texas were battling several massive blazes across the state Wednesday, adding up to more than 1 million acres (400,000 hectares) of land burned in a little more than a week in the drought-stricken state.

The fire started Friday in the Possum Kingdom Lake area, a community of mostly weekend homes about 70 miles (115 kilometers) west of Fort Worth. It spread into two other counties was still raging well into Tuesday night.

That's when authorities ordered the 400 residents of Palo Pinto, about 50 miles (80 kilometers) west of Fort Worth, to leave because of the advancing flames, said Trooper Gary Rozzell of the Texas Department of Public Safety. The county's jail inmates also evacuated, as did the nearby community of Graford and the small town of Strawn, south of the lake.

Weary firefighters had some reason for hope as rain and higher humidity levels were forecast for the rest of the week in parts of the state. A 20 to 30 percent chance of rain was forecast for Wednesday and Thursday in the North Texas area, said Daniel Huckaby, a forecaster at the National Weather Service in Fort Worth.

"Some areas will get some rainfall, but unfortunately most will not. And with the chaotic wind that thunderstorms can produce, and the lightening they can produce, that can make matters worse," Huckaby said. But as the humidity levels rise, "even without the rain, conditions are looking more positive."

Since evacuating her lakeside home in Possum Kingdom Lake, Jackie Fewell has turned her hotel room into the information hub for one of the state's largest wildfires, working the phones and using the Internet to get the word out to worried residents.

Fewell, her husband and several friends have been updating a blog she created about the fire, which has consumed 150,000 acres (60,000 hectares) and destroyed about 150 homes and a church, according to the Texas Forest Service.

Fewell, a partner in a real estate company, said residents have been desperate for accurate information _ even sending as many as 100 emails an hour. "It's because they weren't living there to begin with full-time and they didn't know what was going on, and they were hearing these crazy reports," she said.

Armed with cell phones and laptops, Fewell and her team have been chatting with some residents who refused to evacuate, listening to a law enforcement scanner and even watching live feed from a security camera at one of the homes. By Tuesday afternoon, nearly 62,000 people had visited the blog in about 12 hours _ up from about 800 visitors on a regular day.

Fewell said her blog has kept her from worrying about her home, which she found out Tuesday was not in the path of the fire.

"We've just pushed it to the back of our heads," she said. "It is what it is, and we're all in this together."



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