BORGER, Texas – Firefighters said they were making progress Tuesday against a string of wildfires ravaging the dry Texas grassland, but the good news was tempered by a threat of shifting winds and the distress of evacuees returning to charred homes.
Wind-blown flames have raced across more than 1,000 square miles since Sunday, killed 11 people and forced about 1,900 others to evacuate.
On Tuesday, firefighters were bracing for the possibility of a shift in wind direction and dropping humidity as they worked to strengthen the perimeters around the blazes, said Jan Fulkerson, a spokeswoman for the Texas Forest Service. The wind was near 20 mph mid-morning and there was no rain in sight.
The Department of Public Safety late Monday attributed four new deaths to the fires, bringing the death toll to 11. Nine firefighters have been injured.
"We share in the grief of those who have lost family members and loved ones, and we offer our prayers," Gov. Rick Perry said. "Throughout this wildfire season, communities in our state have shown strength and resolve that are uniquely Texan."
Eleven fires were burning across an estimated nearly 700,000 acres Monday, up from 663,000 over the weekend. State fire crews fought more than 160 blazes in one 24-hour period.
The size of the blackened area easily eclipsed the 455,000 acres that burned in December and January, when the governor declared a disaster.
Fire evacuee Jennifer Orand returned Monday to find her mobile home in the Hutchinson County community of Texroy burned to the ground.
"I just started crying," said Orand, 27, who lives with her husband, Shannon, about 40 miles northeast of Amarillo. "You hear all the time that people think it will never happen to you. I never thought I'd say that myself."
A series of rural fires stretching through Collinsworth, Wheeler, Carson, Hutchinson, Donley and Gray counties, charred some 652,000 acres by Monday night, and were still burning early Tuesday, the Texas Forest Service reported.
Another wildfire in Childress and Cottle counties reached 45,000 acres, the Texas Forest Service said.
In southeastern New Mexico, authorities contained a 92,000-acre fire that had charred tinder-dry brush, burned the McDonald post office and two homes, and forced about 200 people to evacuate. It appeared to have been started by an emergency flare at a natural gas plant, Lovington fire officials said.
Texas Department of Public Safety reported seven firefighters suffered minor injuries fighting the blazes in the Panhandle. One was hospitalized in stable condition Monday night after a wreck in his fire truck. A ranch hand assisting firefighters was hospitalized with second-degree burns.
About 3.5 million acres — 2 percent of Texas land mass — has burned since Dec. 26, said Rachael Novier, a spokeswoman for Perry.