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Wildfires Threaten San Antonio, Texas Suburbs

Dry conditions and high winds are making life difficult for firefighters in Texas, where wildfires continue to threaten life and property in various parts of the state. Fires in the hill country north of that city have forced the evacuation of some wealthy suburbs.

Pushed on by gusts of wind blowing at nearly 50 kilometers per hour, the fires are consuming the dry brush on hillsides and canyons near San Antonio's northern suburbs. Thursday afternoon officials here ordered the evacuation of one subdivision where dozens of expensive new homes could be threatened by the fast-moving fires. There are also many homes under construction in this area and lots of lumber and building materials that could be consumed by fire.

The local fire marshal, Orlando Hernandez, says quick action and the assistance of water-toting Blackhawk helicopters kept the fires from spreading into populated areas.

"We had the Blackhawk helicopters come in and we also had a reconnaissance helicopter come in from Gillespie County to give them directions as to where to drop the water and where it would be most effective," he said.

With authorization from Governor Rick Perry, two Texas National Guard Blackhawk helicopters operated until sunset at the fire site Thursday. As night fell, ground crews were on their own, using special trucks and bulldozers to contain fires. Firefighters from 17 Texas counties are here helping to contain the hill country blazes.

Orlando Hernandez, who is Fire Marshal for Bexar County, where San Antonio is located, says citizens need to take extraordinary precautions during this dry, windy time. He says the fire in the hills north of San Antonio should provide a vivid warning.

"You have a small grass fire and the next thing you know it turns into a 120-, 125-acre fire," he said. "Something that would be a normal [small] fire with these winds, low humidity and the lack of rain, this is what we are going to see."

This is the first major fire in southern Texas this year, but wild fires in the north of the state have already caused a few deaths and destroyed millions of dollars in property. Two small towns west of Dallas were all but completely destroyed by fires last week and fires also swept over the plains of Oklahoma, at one point threatening the suburbs of Oklahoma City.

Unusually dry weather has contributed to the fire danger. There is a ban in effect throughout Texas on any kind of open fire, whether for recreation or for clearing fields. Officials are also warning against the use of fireworks and the disposal of cigarettes in outdoor areas.