Exhausted fire crews in Texas and Oklahoma are battling wildfires that have raged across the southern plains during the past several days, destroying scores of homes and other buildings as well as trees and grass. The fires are being aided by strong winds and dry conditions, with no relief in sight.
Firefighters are struggling to control a large grassfire 200 kilometers west of Dallas. The fire has already blackened 800,960 hectares of grassland. Similar fires in the past week have destroyed two small towns and charred pastures and grasslands in neighboring New Mexico and Oklahoma as well as Texas.
Officials are evacuating people from areas under threat and are searching for possible victims in buildings burned in recent days.
In Oklahoma, the wildfires are approaching the outskirts of Oklahoma City, the state's capital and largest urban area. Winds of up to 80 kilometers per hour are driving the fires and frequent shifts in wind direction make it hard for fire crews to contain them.
In Texas, state officials are making efforts to help local fire departments put out new blazes and contain fires that have gotten out of control. Texas Forest Service spokeswoman Marilynn Grossman says the situation remains perilous.
"It is the dry conditions, coupled with the high winds and low humidity that is causing the problem and a spark-and most of these fires have been caused by human activity. A spark will just pick up and run," she said.
Ms. Grossman says the human activity that has caused these fires has not been deliberate, as far as can be determined, but that the source of many fires has been traced to haphazard actions.
"Primarily, it has been careless activity-throwing cigarettes out of windows while traveling on the highway, welding equipment out in pastures and areas where it is very dry, fireworks, and there were several outdoor burning situations that got out of hand," she added.
Ms. Grossman says the entire state of Texas is under a severe wildfire alert and that there is a ban in effect on outdoor burning, such as using fire to clear fields.
Firefighters from other states have come to Texas and Oklahoma to assist local efforts at containing the wildfires, but officials say the situation is not likely to improve until rain comes to the region.