Trees are bare on a burned ridge west of Palo Pinto, Texas as wildfires continue to burn west of Fort Worth, Wednesday, April 20, 2011. Federal firefighters and officials from several U.S. agencies joined the fight against a massive wildfire burning 70 miles west of Fort Worth on Wednesday, the same day a Texas firefighter died from injuries suffered while battling a blaze earlier this month. (AP/Star-Telegram)Fort Worth Star-Telegram Rodger Mallison
DALLAS — Firefighters continued to make gradual progress containing massive, wind-whipped wildfires that raged across Texas on Saturday, while expressing worry that a change in the weather early next week could spark a new outbreak.
West Texas firefighters rushed to finish controlled burns in the Fort Davis area fire ahead of higher winds that were expected to arrive Tuesday.
"With the winds gusting up to 60 mph, it would mean winds blowing the fire and helping it grow but also that we cannot attack it from the air, which has been one of big strategies we have had up until now," said C.J. Norvell, a spokeswoman for a team of federal firefighters and officials helping in West Texas.
That fire has grown to about 205,000 acres and was being fought Saturday by nearly 300 firefighters. The blaze was reported to be 75 percent contained, but the threat of windier conditions and more heat made the work more urgent.
The winds in the Fort Davis area have been common for this time of year but with hardly any rain, the grass is as dry as it is in late summer without high winds, causing flames to spread quickly, Norvell said. The Fort Davis area fires are more difficult to fight because they are in canyons where bulldozers cannot go and communication is cut off.
Due to safety concerns, firefighters were backing out of the canyons in the Davis Mountains and into gentler terrain before constructing a line and tying it into an existing road system. They began burning out parched grasses and shrubs in a 70,000 acre area between the fireline and the fire in hopes that any new outbreaks next week can be quickly contained.
Meanwhile, in the giant North Texas fire, firefighters worked on mop-up operations in the Possum Kingdom area, which started in the lakeside area 70 miles west of Fort Worth about a week ago. The fire has destroyed about 160 of the community's 3,000 mostly weekend homes.
That fire was said to be only about 25 percent contained, and more than 460 firefighters on Saturday worked to build a fire line stretching more than 270 miles.
Officials said better mapping resulted in the perimeter of the fire being reduced from 147,000 acres to a little more than 126,000 acres. Highways remained open though entrances to housing subdivisions impacted by the fire were closed.
Firefighting crews were focusing on patrol and mop-up operations in another fire that has scorched more than 159,000 acres north of San Angelo. On Saturday, the fire, located in Coke County, was about 75 percent contained.
Since Jan. 1, wildfires have scorched more than 1.4 million acres in the state and led to the deaths of two firefighters.