Some Texans return to homes charred by wildfires

IVAN, Texas (AP) — With calmer winds giving firefighters a chance to get a handle on a few massive Texas wildfires Saturday, some residents returned to their homes — or what was left of them — in communities ravaged by the blazes.

Gary Glasscock, who owns a 300-acre ranch near Possum Kingdom Lake, found his ranch house and most trees destroyed in a fire that had grown to 45,000 acres Saturday after combining with another fire. In the popular recreation area about 120 miles west of Dallas, many resort homes were untouched by the flames while some mobile homes were left in ruins. At some houses, only the garages had burned.

He said he was thankful that some friends who had been doing construction work on his property escaped the flames in time, but was sad to see the loss of the newly rebuilt ranch home that held special memories for his wife and three children.

“It’s just gray ash with a haze over it. It’s just like a ghost town,” Glasscock said.

The Texas Forest Service reported that the nearly 105,000-acre fire started more than a week ago by a welder’s torch in Stonewall, Knox and King counties had been 90 percent contained Saturday, and another 152,000-acre fire spanning parts of Kent, Fisher, Scurry and Stonewall counties was 50 percent contained.

A 3,000-acre Eastland County fire was 95 percent contained Saturday, a day after volunteer firefighter Gregory M. Simmons died in that area. Eastland officials initially said Simmons died after being overcome by smoke and falling in a ditch after he and other firefighters jumped out of a fire truck being chased by flames. But a preliminary autopsy report shows that Simmons died from blunt force trauma, and the Texas Department of Public Safety will determine whether he died in a crash or after fleeing the vehicle, state trooper Phillip “Sparky” Dean said late Saturday.

Despite firefighters’ progress to keep some blazes from spreading, 10 new fires broke out Saturday in East Texas, said Marq Webb of the Texas Forest Service.

“It was better than yesterday, but still not a good day. We did still have some pretty strong winds, and that can create its own set of problems,” Webb said Saturday evening, adding that escalating fire conditions are forecast through next week.

Winds were about 10 mph Saturday in some parts of the state after whipping in the 50 mph range a day earlier, said Dennis Cavanaugh of the National Weather Service.

Texas could be fighting fires for as long as two months because of drought conditions around the state, said Steve Deffibaugh, another Texas Forest Service spokesman. A sense of urgency will remain “until we get a significant amount of rain,” he added.

Nearly 30 homes were destroyed in Wichita County on Friday, and firefighters continued battling three blazes that had grown to 7,100 acres by Saturday in the area about 150 miles northwest of Dallas near the Oklahoma border, state officials said.

Wildfires have spread across more than 700,000 acres — about the size of Rhode Island — in the past week in drought-stricken Texas, including half a dozen massive fires still burning.

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Associated Press writers Matt Curry and Schuyler Dixon in Dallas and broadcast anchor Ed Donahue in Washington, D.C., contributed to this report.

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