Unfavorable weather conditions on Sunday hindered crews fighting to contain a wildfire that has destroyed scores of homes in central Texas, as a new blaze emerged nearby, fire officials said.
The Eastland Complex fire, which consists of four fires that ignited last week in and around Eastland County, about 100 miles west of Fort Worth, was 30 percent contained on Sunday, according to a report by the fire tracker InciWeb. It has burned more than 54,000 acres and killed one sheriff’s deputy.
The new fire, called the Blowing Basin fire, began near the small Eastland County community of Rising Star. It covered roughly 100 acres and was 5 percent contained on Sunday afternoon, said Mary Leathers of the Texas A&M Forest Service, the state’s lead agency for fighting wildfires.
Nearby roads were closed to the public as fire crews and aviation assets were dispatched to fight the wind-driven blaze. “It’s an evolving incident,” Ms. Leathers said. She added that other new outbreaks or expansions of the current fires were possible on Sunday, noting that hours of daylight, warm temperatures and wind gusts are the optimal conditions for wildfires.
“Our concerns today over the fires is the critical fire weather that’s moving in this afternoon,” she said, adding that officials were staying “hypervigilant” about the weather.
The biggest threat by far in the Eastland Complex fire is the Kidd fire, which has consumed more than 42,000 acres and was 25 percent contained on Sunday. The blaze has destroyed more than 140 structures, including homes, businesses, outbuildings and other structures on properties.
The town of Carbon in Eastland County lost nearly 90 homes by one local official’s count, and other small towns in the county, including Ranger, Gorman and Rising Star, also sustained damage.
Although conditions on Saturday brought a brief reprieve, the winds and temperature picked up and the humidity level dropped on Sunday, said Angel Lopez Portillo, a spokesman for the Texas A&M Forest Service. Mr. Portillo added that he was uncertain how long it would take to bring the Eastland Complex fire under greater control.
“We are not out of the woods at all,” said Chief Joe Williamson of the Eastland Fire Department.
Chief Williamson, who is the local incident commander for the Kidd fire, said in an interview on Sunday from the fire zone that increasing winds were sending embers from active fires into unburned areas. “Our conditions are deteriorating pretty quick,” he said.
Chief Williamson, who has been a firefighter for 32 years, has been the fire chief in Eastland County for just over a year. He has spent most of his career fighting urban blazes with metropolitan fire departments and said that wildfires present vastly different challenges.
“A building is fairly simple to contain — four walls of the building,” he explained. The only containments for wildfires, he said, are natural barriers, and in the rolling plains of parts of Texas “we don’t have a lot of that out here.”
Forecasters are concerned that the week will bring more challenges. The National Weather Service issued a red flag warning “for elevated to critical fire weather conditions” in both North and Central Texas on Sunday. Red flag warnings are issued by the Weather Service when warm temperatures, very low humidities and strong winds combine to raise the risk of fire.
While there is a chance of rain in the area on Monday, according to Monique Sellers, a meteorologist with the Weather Service in Fort Worth, the forecast for the rest of the week includes the same low humidity and high winds that are “the perfect conditions” to feed the fire — and start others.
“All it takes is some kind of spark, no matter what it is, to make things worse,” Ms. Sellers said.
Source: NY Times