Wind-Fueled Texas Wildfires Drive People From Homes, Delay Flights

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Strong, gusty winds swept across the region Tuesday, driving fast-moving wildfires that chased people from their homes, took down power lines and delayed some flights.

No injuries or deaths had been reported as firefighters scrambled to douse the flames, fueled mostly by dry grass. Wind in North Texas was reported at 50 mph.

Conditions were similar in late 2005 and early 2006, when strong winds, low humidity, and dry grass and brush set the stage for fires that charred 2.25 million acres statewide, destroyed more than 730 homes and killed 20 people.

"It's starting to seem like 'Here we go again,"' said Texas Forest Service spokeswoman Carrie Smith.

The wind fanned several wildfires in western Arkansas at Fort Chaffee, spreading flames to vacant barracks on the former Army base that an official said were scheduled to be torn down. The flames engulfed about 150 vacant barracks but spared the building where Elvis Presley got his military haircut 50 years ago.

In Texas, Gov. Rick Perry has activated the state's emergency center at the highest level, his spokeswoman Allison Castle said.

"We take the threat of wildfires very seriously," she said.

Water-dropping helicopters were on standby, but high winds delayed crews, Castle said. An observation plane will help coordinate ground efforts as soon as winds ease, she said.

The swift flames prompted evacuations of small residential areas in several counties, authorities said. Flames had consumed about 2,000 acres of fields, and at least two dozen buildings were destroyed.

A fire in Wise County, northwest of the Dallas-Fort Worth area, destroyed at least 14 structures and consumed more than 300 acres, Smith said. A fire in West Texas in Nolan County had spread across 200 acres and was growing, she said.

Some fires in the Fort Worth area that threatened neighborhoods were caused by downed power lines. About 75,000 homes and businesses lost power across the region Tuesday afternoon, said Carol Peters, a spokeswoman for the Oncor utility company.

Flights at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport were delayed by as much as an hour because the wind led airport officials to stop using four of its seven runways.

Tuesday's events were similar to the scenario in late 2005 and early 2006, when strong winds, low humidity and dry, high grasses and brush set the stage for massive fires that scorched 2.25 million acres statewide, destroyed more than 730 homes and killed 20 people, including two firefighters.

"It's starting to seem like, 'Here we go again,"' Smith said. "With all the fires we have going to day, it is reminding me of what happened in 2005 and 2006."

On Monday, the Texas Forest Service responded to four fires totaling nearly 10,000 acres in West Texas.

Strong winds in South Texas on Monday caused a motor home to veer across a highway and hit a tractor-trailer head on, killing the truck driver in the fiery crash, according to Texas Department of Public Safety.