Reinforcements are flowing into drought-ravaged Texas as it battles two dozen wildfires burning across the state. The fires have razed 1.8 million acres so far and destroyed hundreds of homes. On Thursday, Gov. Rick Perry even officially declared Easter weekend to be three "Days of Prayer for Rain."
One of the biggest fires began more than a week ago at the south end of Possum Kingdom Lake, about 70 miles west of Fort Worth. It's since merged with other fires in the area, prompting the U.S. Forest Service to assume command of coordinated efforts last week.
Federal Firefighters Step In
Liz Caldwell, with the U.S. Forest Service, helped open the Incident Command Post in Mineral Wells, Texas, on Tuesday, as federal fire crews arrived to relieve exhausted local and state firefighters.
"They did a great job, an excellent job," Caldwell says of the firefighters. "But [the fire] was in so many places. The magnitude was so great in different areas."
Caldwell keeps things running smoothly at the ICP, not far from Possum Kingdom Lake. It's not the chaotic scene one might expect in such a mammoth undertaking. It's organized and fairly quiet as hardworking firefighters come and go. You can tell the ones coming in from the field; they're sweaty, covered in soot — and thirsty.
The fire has destroyed more than 150 homes. Ken Dixon is lucky; his home is not one of them. He's grateful and surprised, considering the scene he fled a week ago. He grabbed his wife, the dog and jumped in the truck.
"Can't say exactly how far it was, but we could see flames on three sides. So that's when we left," he says.
Officials are telling residents they don't know when they'll lift the evacuation order.
'Like A Moonscape'
On Friday, homeowners in four hard-hit areas were allowed back in for a brief look at the damage. Caldwell toured those neighborhoods ahead of the residents and says the scene is shocking.
"Some of the places look like a moonscape," she says. "There's no trees. Some of the trees are just black and charred. The massive houses that were there, all the landscape, flowers and stuff, it's sad. It's very sad and depressing, and our hearts go out to those who have lost so much."
The Possum Kingdom fire is only 25 percent contained so far. Caldwell says even though flames are out in some areas, it is so dry, any spark could cause a new fire.
This area of Texas has not had any significant rain in three months, and precious little since last September. National Weather Service forecaster Daniel Huckaby says the entire state is having a drought — with two-thirds classified as "extreme drought."
"We certainly want to get some decent spring rains, because even in a good year we tend not to get too much rain during the summer," he says.
Huckaby says if Texas doesn't get that rain soon, the extreme fire danger could last a long time. Copyright 2011 KERA Unlimited. To see more, visit http://www.kera.org/.