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Stunned Texans survey homes destroyed by wildfires

Stunned Texans survey homes destroyed by wildfires

February 28th, 2011 in News

AMARILLO, Texas (AP) - Stunned and weary residents of a Texas Panhandle town were allowed to return to what was left of homes on Monday, a day after fleeing one of several wind-driven wildfires that have scorched some 190 square miles in the state.

Shaken residents of rural Mesilla Park who spent Sunday night in a shelter in nearby Amarillo waited in their cars at a roadblock until authorities gave them the all-clear to return home to survey the damage.

Firefighters battled blazes in the Panhandle and West Texas overnight and had contained them by Monday, authorities said. But crews were preparing for new wildfires Monday in the central and southern parts of the state - including and around Austin, San Antonio and Houston - because of the low humidity, warm temperatures and very dry conditions, said Texas Forest Service spokesman Lewis Kearney.

The fire near Amarillo was ignited by a spark from a metal grinder, Potter County Sheriff Brian Thomas said. Austin Lynn Stephens, 52, who was not supposed to be in the field where he was cutting pipe, was arrested a criminal trespassing charge, Thomas said.

Sunday's blazes were aided by 70 mph wind gusts. But weaker winds Monday allowed crews to contain the fires, including a 40,000-acre fire that forced the evacuation of the small town of Matador and a 7,000-acre fire that destroyed 13 homes in Colorado City, Kearney said.