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TX congregation aids firefighters

Wildfires continue to threaten wide areas of state

BY BOND BRUNGARD | KNOX CITY, TX | March 20, 2008

It was hot, thirsty work for firefighters battling wildfires during the past week in west Texas, but members of the First United Methodist Church in Knox City found a way to help those that kept the fires away from their town.

Congregation members provided food and drink for 75 firefighters, who were trying to contain a fire covering about 16,000 acres in and around King County.

“We could see it,” said Doris Crownover, a secretary at Knox City’s First United Methodist Church, of the dense smoke from the fires about a half-hour away. “We were not in danger by any means.”

A La Nina, which causes dry winds, is partially to blame for the wildfires, which have raged this month and burned more than 200,000 acres since Friday, March 14. No injuries have been reported and only a few houses have been lost.

A critical fire alert was issued in late February and by Monday, March 17, firefighters were trying to contain fires that have blackened thousands of acres of brush land in Val Verde, King, Pecos, Stonewall, Reagan, Irion, Dimmit and LaSalle counties.

“We had a lot rain last spring and summer,” said Pat Schaub, a spokesperson for the Texas Forest Service, “and that grew a lot of vegetation.”

That vegetation was in-turn “frost-cured,” said Schaub, over the winter and the preserved greenery has provided ample fuel for the fires, which are easily started by dangling tow chains, sparking off an asphalt roadway, an overheated car pulling off a road and into a grassy spot or simply very dry grass making contact with a hot catalytic converter.

“That’s been known to start fires before,” Schaub, said of the dangling-chain scenario.

This has been the busiest fire season since 2006, when about 900,000 acres burned near Amarillo.

As of Monday, March 17, according to the Texas Forest Service, about 6000 acres were burning in Val Verde County, about 29 miles north of Comstock. The fire was 40 percent contained.

Two days later on Wednesday, March 19, the Texas Forest Service reported that 17,000 acres were burning, and 50 percent of that fire has been contained in south Texas, near the border of Mexico and the Gulf of Mexico.

A few homes were destroyed near San Manuel and about 100 others evacuated. In Jim Hogg County, farther north, near about 10,000 acres was burning and 80 percent of that fire was contained.

And in Duval County, fires were burning that consumed about 5,000 acres near Ramirez and Realitos, and 80 percent of those fires were contained. Homes were saved in those blazes, but several power poles were destroyed.

“As far we know, there haven’t been any fire related deaths,” said Schaub, of the fires in south Texas.

In Dimmit and LaSalle counties, about 135 homes were threatened by a fire that covered more than 67,000 acres. A FEMA declaration has been received for this fire, 50 percent contained, which started about eight miles east of Catarina and was moving in southeasterly direction.

A fire broke through its containment lines over the weekend in King County, but was repelled by a pair of air tankers. That fire was fed by one that merged from Stonewall County.

In Pecos County, about 27 miles southeast of Fort Stockton, 35,000 acres of timber, bush and grasses has been burned; about 80 percent of that fire has been contained.


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