Texas Panhandle wildfire destroys about 75 homes

AP, May 14, 2014

FRITCH, Texas (AP) — A wildfire that set a mobile home community in the Texas Panhandle ablaze was mostly contained Monday although some areas continued to smolder, emergency officials said.

Hundreds of people around Lake Meredith, between the towns of Sanford and Fritch, evacuated their homes Sunday afternoon as firefighters battled flames and thick plumes of smoke across two miles of dry, dusty plains. Some moved to an ad hoc shelter in a high school gymnasium, others to the sanctuary of a local church serving the rural communities some 30 miles northeast of Amarillo.

The fire was about 80 percent contained by midday Monday with the aid of humidity from storm systems in the area, according to Jason Wright, Hutchinson County’s assistant emergency management coordinator.

“We still have some structures that are smoldering but we don’t have an active fire,” Wright said.

Caption: In this Sunday, May 11, 2014 photo provided by the Texas Department of Public Safety, a wildfire burns near Fritch, Texas. The wildfire has led to evacuations and road closures and has destroyed dozens of homes. (AP Photo/Texas Department of Public Safety, Chris Ray)

Still, Texas Department of Public Safety Trooper Chris Ray said 30 mph winds continued to pose a threat to the lake community’s 2,100 residents.

“The wind is stirring up the dirt, smoke and soot, so there are visibility issues along with battling the fire,” Ray said.

The wildfire could have been started by a burning shed, Wright said.

The Panhandle chapter of the Red Cross concentrated about 130 evacuees in the Sanford-Fritch High School gym. Red Cross coordinator Steve Pair said about 200 people checked into the shelter last night, and evacuees have been in and out throughout the day.

It is the first wildfire in the area since February 2011 during one of the worst droughts in Texas history. Twelve people were killed in a March 2006 wildfire that burned nearly 1 million acres.

Some 25 fire departments in a 165-mile radius responded to the most recent fire.

“We had so many people respond to it right away that we were able to get a better hold of it,” Wright said.

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