AMARILLO, Texas – Wildfires sweeping across West Texas destroyed dozens of homes, forced evacuations and closed an interstate after heavy smoke caused a fatal accident Sunday, and winds fueling the fires weren't expected to weaken overnight.
The fires blackened almost 88,000 acres and destroyed 58 homes from the Texas Panhandle to the southern plains, Texas Forest Service spokesman Lewis Kearney said.
Heavy smoke from a wildfire near Midland, about 330 miles west of Dallas, was blamed for an eight-vehicle accident along Interstate 20 that killed a 5-year-old girl. The roadway was shrouded in smoke when a tractor-trailer hit the pickup truck she was riding in, said Trooper John Barton of the Texas Department of Public Safety. A man and another child were injured.
One firefighter suffered second-degree burns fighting a blaze near Colorado City, about 250 miles west of Dallas, but no other injuries were immediately reported.
The largest fire burned about 30,000 acres in the Panhandle northeast of Amarillo, destroying 27 homes and damaging seven others, Kearney said. A local kennel also was burned, but it was unclear how many animals died, said local emergency management spokeswoman Donna Makkhavane.
One of those homes belonged to Daniel Cook, a volunteer firefighter in Palisades. He said he heard the news over the radio.
Cook, 34, was staying at a shelter in a church south of Amarillo that was set up after residents were evacuated. He said someone told him that his "whole street was ash."
"I'm glad everyone got out safe," Cook said, noting that his uncle and his two dogs safely fled the house. "There is nothing you can do. You can't stop what you're doing to go protect your home."
Gusty winds that were fueling the wildfires weren't expected to weaken overnight, said Mark Stanford, chief of fire operations for the Texas Forest Service. He said conditions were "very severe."
Aircraft that help gather information about the scattered fires couldn't get into the air because of the winds. But humidity rose to about 25 percent in the Amarillo area by nightfall, which could offer some relief to firefighters, Stanford said.
Another wildfire scorched about 21,000 acres in a remote area north of Midland, just east of the Texas-New Mexico line. No homes were reported damaged, but smoke from the blaze was blamed for the accident that killed Cameron Dominguez, 5, and injured Juan Dominguez, 30, and 9-year-ol Elijah Arp. Juan Dominguez was in stable condition at Midland Memorial Hospital late Sunday and Elijah had been treated and released, hospital spokesman Mike Ross said.
The blaze that injured the firefighter near Colorado City destroyed three large oil storage tanks, two homes and an outbuilding. A hospital and nursing home in the city were evacuated late Sunday as a 1,000-acre wildfire approached, Kearney said.
Evacuations also were ordered in Matador, about 130 miles southeast of Amarillo, as a wildfire burning across 500 acres bore down on the town of 650 residents. Motley County Judge Jim Meador said the fire was threatening the south side of Matador late Sunday, and the evacuation order was expected to extend into at least Monday morning.
"It's still going good. It's moved through the southern edge of town and hasn't been contained. You can't see that area very good because of the smoke, but I've got reports of two homes burned," he said.
A wildfire also prompted evacuations in parts of Borger, about 40 miles northeast of Amarillo, though local officials said the imminent threat had eased as of nightfall Sunday.
Associated Press writer Terry Wallace contributed to this report from Dallas.