Official: Fire unlikely to reach Fort Worth, Texas

By Angela K. Brown

Associated Press

Published: Tuesday, April 19 2011 5:36 p.m. MDT

A firefighter lights a back burn to prevent a wildfire from jumping the highway in Coke County, Texas, on Monday, April 18, 2011.

Reporter-News, Tommy Metthe, Associated Press

MINERAL WELLS, Texas — A growing wildfire racing through parched fields and woods west of Fort Worth on Tuesday isn't likely to make it far enough east to threaten the heavily populated metropolitan area, a state forestry official said Tuesday.

The fire started Friday near Possum Kingdom Lake, 70 miles west of Fort Worth, and linked up with several smaller blazes. By Tuesday, it had burned nearly 150,000 acres, destroyed 30 homes and a church and forced many residents to flee the area, Texas Forest Service Marq Webb said.

Webb said fire crews would be able to establish "battle lines" to keep the blaze from Fort Worth, one of Texas' largest cities, with nearly 750,000 residents. But the statewide drought, hot temperatures and gusting winds have made for ideal conditions that have allowed wildfires to ignite and spread quickly in several parts of the state, including the capital, Austin.

"It's still a long way out there. God help us if it goes that far," Webb told The Associated Press. "Stranger things have happened, but we're not even thinking that at this point.

Authorities ordered the 400 residents of Palo Pinto, 56 miles west of Fort Worth, to leave the city on Tuesday because of the advancing flames, said Trooper Gary Rozzell of the Texas Department of Public Safety. He did not know what led to the decision to evacuate the city.

But in other towns between the fire and Fort Worth, residents didn't seem worried that the blaze could reach them.

"We don't have the underbrush here, and there are many communities and other developed areas before the fire would get to Fort Worth or Dallas," said Jimmy Peters, who lives in Willow Park, about 30 miles west of Fort Worth.

That fire might not reach them, but fire officials in several of the state's biggest city said they were wary that a single spark could cause a blaze like the one that destroyed homes in southwest Austin last weekend.

Authorities say that fire started when a homeless man left his campfire untended and the wind blew an ember into the tinder-dry vegetation that can be found throughout the state. The fire spread quickly and forced the evacuation of about 200 homes before crews were able to contain it.

"We absolutely saw what happened (in Austin), and we do have similar dry conditions and very windy conditions," said Melissa Sparks, a San Antonio Fire Department spokeswoman. "We are prepared in case it happens, but there's not really an opportunity for us to go out and mow everybody's lawns for them."

Jason Evans, a spokesman for the Dallas Fire Department, said some of the city's some populated areas are close to rural regions full of parched grass and brush.

"I think people are guilty of thinking, 'This can't happen here,'" Evans said. "There's a lot of people in Texas who thought that when they saw wildfires in Colorado and California, but now they are realizing it can happen in Texas, too."

Associated Press reporters Will Weissert in San Antonio and Schuyler Dixon, Linda Stewart Ball and Danny Robbins in Dallas contributed to this story.

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