Wildfires in Texas have burned hundreds of homes and thousands of hectares of fields and forests in recent days in what government officials say is the worst fire season on record for that southwestern U.S. state.
Main roads around Magnolia are closed as firefighters continue to battle blazes in the dry brush and heavily forested areas.
Residents who left everything behind watch the smoke rising and wonder what is left.
Justin Allen is one of them. “When we left there last night, everything was in flames; we saw houses on fire. So we don't know, we are just waiting to see,” he said.
It might be a long wait because fires keep flaring up in different places, according to Montgomery County Sheriff's Department Captain Rand Henderson. “They have been pretty good during the course of the night because the wind had died down," he explained. "It is starting to pick up some, moving from the east to the west, so we are having some flare-up issues.”
Joel Hambright of the Texas Forestry Service says these are the worst fires he has seen in 17 years on the job. “This has been a year we will never forget, I think. We are losing houses all over the place, so I just urge people to do some mitigation work and clear some of the fuel from around their houses, so this does not happen,” he said.
Texas already was in danger because of a record-breaking drought. Tropical Storm Lee, which caused flooding in neighboring Louisiana, brought almost no rain to Texas, but produced high winds to fan the flames.
Dennis Burford was in Louisiana when he heard about the fire that threatened his home here in Texas. “All the creeks were swollen real good and all the bayous were swollen real good -- a lot of water. But we sure need that here,” he said.
Red Cross shelter for people, pets
Burford and many of his neighbors came to a local high school, which is being used by the Red Cross as a shelter.
Jessica Debalski is the Red Cross Field Services Manager for the Houston area. “Last night we had about 80 people that spent the night, and then today we have had several more that have signed in to get more information and then wait here until the evacuation order has been lifted,” she stated.
It is a tough time for those who have been displaced, but Debalski says her crew is doing what it can for them.
“There is a lot of stress here," Debalski noted. "But we do have mental health specialists that are talking to people and we have kept everyone calm and well fed with lots of great snacks that have been donated by the community. And we are just kind of waiting for more information.”
One thing that helps is that evacuees are able to bring their pets and keep them in an outdoor area set up for animals.
Michelle Johnson even brought some feathered friends. "I have two cats, a dog and two chickens, a rooster and a chicken. And I grabbed them and got out or they would have died,” she explained.
She may not have a house to return to, but Johnson says that at least she will have fresh eggs for breakfast.
This is only one of several places in central and east Texas where wildfires are raging. The winds have died down, but what is needed is rain and none is forecast for the next week.