Tuesday, May 13, 2014
FRITCH, Texas (AP) — Firefighters had stopped the spread of flames in a wildfire in the Texas Panhandle and were focusing Monday night on hotspots and buildings still smoldering 24 hours after they first turned their hoses on the blaze.
No injuries were reported in the fire, but hundreds of people from a 4-square-mile area around Lake Meredith, between the towns of Sanford and Fritch, evacuated their homes Sunday afternoon. Some moved to an ad hoc shelter in a high school gymnasium, others to the sanctuary of a local church serving the rural communities some 30 miles northeast of Amarillo.
Dozens of pets were taken in by a local animal hospital.
The fire destroyed 156 structures, at least 89 of which were homes, Texas A&M Forest Service spokesman Troy Duchneaux said late Monday. About 2,100 people remain evacuated from roughly 1,300 homes, he said.
The fire was about 65 percent contained as of late Monday night, and humidity and lower temperatures from area storms were helping, Duchneaux said.
A house-by-house search and damage assessment is planned for Tuesday, he said.
Nearly three-quarters of the impacted area within the city of Fritch was contained.
"We still have some structures that are smoldering, but we don't have an active fire," said Jason Wright, Hutchinson County's assistant emergency management coordinator.
The wildfire, which swept through a mobile home community, could have been started by a burning shed, Wright said. The homes' steel frames and burnt carcasses of cars and trucks sat under a pile of ash.
However, Fritch Police Chief Monte Leggett told the Associated Press it was "too early to suspect" foul play.
About 130 evacuees were at the Sanford-Fritch High School gym on Monday, according to the Panhandle chapter of the Red Cross. Red Cross coordinator Steve Pair said about 200 people checked into the makeshift shelter Sunday night.
Throughout Fritch, the smell of fire was in the air. With power lines down and the impacted area still off-limits, the shelter's evacuees could only wonder whether it was their homes they could smell burning.
"It's hard because we're kind of in a wait-and-see pattern," Pair said.
It is the first wildfire in the area since February 2011 during one of the worst droughts in Texas history. Twelve people were killed in a March 2006 wildfire that burned nearly 1 million acres.
Some 25 fire departments in a 165-mile radius responded to the most recent fire.
"We had so many people respond to it right away that we were able to get a better hold of it," Wright said.