Governor Declares Fire Disaster

Dozens of grass fires burned across an unusually warm and windy Texas on Tuesday, destroying homes, forcing evacuations, and prompting Gov. Rick Perry to deploy state firefighters and issue a disaster declaration.

Perry's office said 73 fires were burning around the state as of Monday, mostly in North and Central Texas. His office didn't have an updated number Tuesday because the situation is "in flux."

"To better ensure our ability to immediately respond to these fast-moving fires, I have ordered the deployment of Texas Army National Guard assets and requested assistance from the U.S. Forest Service," Perry said in a statement.

Specifically, the Governor has:

  • Deployed four Texas Army National Guard helicopters
  • Requested and received two single engine air tankers from the U.S. Forest Service
  • Requested and received two helicopters from the U.S. Forest Service.

One of the largest fires was in Kennedale, a bedroom community of about 6,100 people south of Fort Worth. Large plumes of white smoke rose above the town, where television footage showed homes damaged, and residents spraying hoses and dumping buckets of water on the flames.

Fort Worth Fire Department Lt. Kent Worley said the department was helping battle the blaze in Kennedale, which jumped U.S. Highway 287 and prompted officials to temporarily shut it down.

In nearby Arlington, fire threatened new housing developments and apartment complexes, and sent smoke pouring over a wide area.

Three Arlington firefighters were hospitalized with smoke inhalation and heat exhaustion, said Battalion Chief David Stapp, who declared one of the fires contained.

Texas Forest Service spokeswoman Traci Weaver said the wildfires were the state's worst since February 1996, when 141 structures and 16,000 acres were destroyed around Poolville, about 40 miles northwest of Fort Worth. Damage estimates probably won't be available until Wednesday, Weaver said.

In Hood County, southwest of Fort Worth and Tarrant County, a fire near Canyon Creek forced several evacuations, said Jerry Lind, chief deputy for the Hood County Sheriff's Office. He said several structures were on fire, and propane tanks have exploded.

Police and firefighters went door-to-door evacuating a subdivision of several hundred homes. Evacuees were being taken to churches.

Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press. All rights reserved.