CROSS PLAINS, Texas – Firefighters gained the upper hand on wildfires that raced through Texas and Oklahoma, killing four people, but officials worried about a forecast for more warm and windy conditions and the possibility of fireworks-caused blazes on New Year's Day.
Oklahoma and much of Texas remained under burning bans — particularly for fireworks. Gov. Rick Perry urged counties to prohibit fireworks around the holiday, warning "the state of Texas is a tinderbox."
"We are at as high a level of opportunity for wildfires as you can have," Perry said Thursday as he toured Cross Plains, the town that suffered the most damage in the blazes earlier in the week.
In central Oklahoma, fires flared again in windy weather Thursday, consuming hundreds of acres of land and threatening scattered homes in rural areas near Oklahoma City. By late afternoon, firefighters were able to ease the blazes, said fire Maj. Brian Stanaland. Before they did, flames scorched hundreds of acres of land and a barn.
Severe drought, wind gusts of 40 mph and temperatures reaching the low 80s set the stage for the fires, which charred nearly 200 homes in the two states. Authorities believe the fires, which started Tuesday, were mostly set by people ignoring fire bans and burning trash, shooting fireworks or throwing out cigarettes.
The National Weather Service predicted a return of hazardous conditions on Saturday, prompting fears that New Year's fireworks could spark another round of fires.
"Just the notion of shooting fireworks on New Year's Eve is near blasphemy," said meteorologist Alan Moller in Fort Worth, Texas.
Patrick Burke, a meteorologist inNorman, Okla., said little if any rain was forecast for that state over the next seven days. Strong wind and higher-than-normal temperatures were expected, especially on Sunday, Tuesday and Wednesday.
President Bush was briefed at his Texas ranch about the fires Thursday, said White House spokesman Trent Duffy. The Agriculture Department is lending equipment and firefighters to help battle the blazes, Duffy said.
Henry said Wednesday that the Federal Emergency Management Agency had approved Oklahoma's request for federal assistance to fight the fires. On Thursday, Perry said he asked Bush for a disaster declaration for Texas' Callahan County.
Cross Plains, a working-class town there about 115 miles west of Fort Worth, lost about 90 homes and several other buildings Tuesday. Two deaths were reported there, and another was reported in Cooke County, near the Texas-Oklahoma line.
In Oklahoma, a man was killed in a blaze in Hughes County. Firefighters spent Tuesday and Wednesday battling fires that scorched 10,000 acres there.
"We're stretched to the limit right now. We're wore out." Holdenville Fire Chief Dwight Barnett said Thursday. "But everybody's got the same problem right now. We're just trying to get our equipment back up to shape and get some rest and get ready for the weekend."