The Somervell County Fire Department is helping to fight the massive blazes around Possum Kingdom Lake that have scorched about 150,000 acres and destroyed more than 100 homes.
The fires and high winds have brought smoke and even ash all the way to the Glen Rose area.
Fire Department Chief Mark Crawford said he had never been in a position before “where we're choosing which houses to save and which to let burn.” On Sunday, he watched three mansions burning as the crew drove by.
“It's just that we can't risk our lives” to save homes that are right up against burning brush, he added.
Crawford and six other personnel took three trucks to the Palo Pinto fires last weekend for two-day deployments. Another team currently is on a deployment. He said he expected the department to send a crew for another two-day stint this weekend.
“It's just unstoppable,” Crawford said of the fires. At this point, firefighters and emergency personnel are doing whatever they can to save lives, he said.
The county's emergency management coordinator and fire marshal, Dwayne Griffin, accompanied Crawford and the team.
“It's pretty bad,” he said by phone Tuesday afternoon after he, Crawford and the fire crew had reached Possum Kingdom. “No matter where you look, there's fire everywhere.”
County Judge Mike Ford said Wednesday that the Somervell County fire chief and crew were put in charge of a strike team and 25 pieces of equipment. They fought fires until 2 a.m. Thursday to save the town of Palo Pinto.
Residents in Somervell and Hood counties have asked how to help with the effort. Griffin said firefighters need Chapstick, handwash, eyewash, Gatorade, sunscreen and energy bars (he noted there's plenty of water available, so that's not needed). Anyone who wants to make a donation can take the items to the fire department's headquarters on Shepard Street.
Griffin again warned county residents that the threat of fire remains high and to be extra careful.
“At this point even mowing a lawn or driving a four-wheeler could be a danger,” Griffin said. Anything with an engine could start a fire with so much dry fuel on the ground, he said.
A red flag warning remained in effect through Tuesday night, indicating critical fire conditions. Report all outdoor burning to 911, the EMC office advised.
Residents can stay informed about local fire conditions on the EMC's Facebook site, Somervell County Emergency Management. On the county's home page, www.co.somervell.tx.us, residents can sign up their mobile phones to the county's Code Red service and receive emergency alerts.
Photos of the department's work fighting the PK fires are posted on its Facebook site.
As of late Tuesday, the fire west of Possum Kingdom scorched more than 89,000 acres, while one to the east has burned 11,000 acres. Two more fires in Palo Pinto County have burned more than 47,000 acres. Hundreds of people have been evacuated. Ranchers cut fences to let cattle out to escape the flames.
The Palo Pinto County judge Tuesday afternoon ordered the immediate closure of water access at Possum Kingdom Lake to everyone except emergency workers responding to the wildfire.
Resources across Texas have been “spread thin” battling the numerous wildfires fueled by historic drought and critical fire weather conditions, the forest service said.
To help fight the PK fires, the forest service ordered helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft, including air tankers, to spot fires and drop fire retardant.
For a current update on the wildfire situation, visit the forest service's Web site, txforeservice.tamu.edu.
The ongoing drought, low-humidity, high winds and an overabundance of dead vegetation that burns easily have combined to create the extremely dangerous fire conditions, forest service officials said. Instead of bringing spring rains, last month was the driest March on record.
Strong winds increase wildfire rates of spread to 3 to 4 mph — or about one football field every minute, according to the forest service.
“Though the gusty winds are typical this time of year, the abundance of critically dry vegetation is not,” the forest service added.