The largest wildfires ever recorded in the state of Texas continue to threaten lives, homes and thousands of hectares of land in the northwest panhandle region of the state. So far, 11 people have died as a result of the fires. State and local officials are hoping a change in weather later in the week will help them control the blazes.
Hundreds of local firefighters and volunteers are battling three huge fires that are sweeping across the flat open plains. State officials are supporting the local crews with helicopters and several large aircraft capable of transporting and dumping fire retardant chemicals.
The worst of the fire damage and most of the deaths came on Sunday, a dark day for those fleeing the flames as well as those fighting them. Warren Bielenberg works for the Texas State Forestry Service command post in Granbury, Texas.
"The event on Sunday was just horrific. It was the largest fire event in Texas history," he said.
In a VOA phone interview, Bielenberg explained that prior to Sunday no Texas fire had ever scorched more than 130,400 hectares, but two of the three fires that started over the weekend in northwest Texas have already topped the previous record, burning a combined area of more than 320,000 hectares.
Dry conditions and strong winds have driven the wildfires. Winds are relatively low at this time, but weather forecasters expect higher winds on Wednesday. Warren Bielenberg says crews are working at a frantic pace to prepare for what could be a repeat of Sunday's conflagrations.
"We are trying to get as much containment on the fire as possible to keep it from expanding," he said. "We are trying to just minimize the rate of spread or the extent of spread for our existing fires and hope that no new fires break out."
Although the large fires that swept over the panhandle area of Texas in the past few days are the largest, they are not the only fires burning in the state. State officials have reported more than 160 fires and have issued a red flag warning for an area starting on the Gulf of Mexico coast near Corpus Christi and extending into the central plains and panhandle region.
Fires are also threatening lives and property in the neighboring states of Oklahoma and New Mexico, where similar dry, windy conditions prevail. More than 1,000 people have been evacuated from areas under threat and firefighters are hoping for some rain and, at the very least, less wind in the days ahead so that they can get the fires under control.