Fire and Rain Plague the West

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Grass fires continue across Texas and Oklahoma, burning homes and destroying some small towns. Drought across the region is behind the numerous grass fires. Meanwhile, in California, the problem is rain — northern California is trying to clean up from two damaging winter storms.


From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

Severe weather conditions continue to wreak havoc in parts of the country. Grass fires in Texas, Oklahoma and New Mexico have destroyed more than 100 homes. The fires have been fueled by strong winds, lack of rain and unseasonably high temperatures. In California, the problem is rain. Residents in the northern part of the state are trying to clean up following powerful weekend storms, and today the rains hit Southern California, where authorities issued flash flood warnings. NPR's Tom Goldman has more.

TOM GOLDMAN reporting:

Normally this time of year, it feels like winter in Texas and Oklahoma; 30 to 40 degrees in December and January. This year, it's been warm, up into the 80s even, and windy; gusts higher than 50 miles per hour. That's a volatile mix, and it's helped spread the dangerous grass fires throughout the region.

In Texas, the fires have scorched hundreds of thousands of acres. Today, firefighters battled two particularly big blazes, one near the northern border with Oklahoma. In that state, a fire department official from Oklahoma City was quoted by The Associated Press as saying, "The entire city remains a target for grass fires." Michelann Ooten is a spokeswoman for Oklahoma's Department of Emergency Management. She says the fires of the past week are part of an ongoing event that began the 1st of November.

Ms. MICHELANN OOTEN (Spokeswoman, Oklahoma Department of Emergency Management): And if you look at the wildfires that have occurred in Oklahoma since then, we're talking about more than 285,000 acres that have burned and more than 200 homes and businesses that have been destroyed by the fires.

GOLDMAN: Two small Texas communities, Ringgold and Kokomo, were basically wiped out by the flames. Officials throughout the region say they need the weather to change for things to get better. But Michelann Ooten says that's not going to happen, at least for a few days.

Ms. OOTEN: Unfortunately, the outlook for tomorrow shows some of the same areas that were hit on Sunday and last Tuesday are at risk for very substantial wildfires on Tuesday.

GOLDMAN: While tomorrow promises more hardship and danger in Oklahoma, Texas and New Mexico, Tuesday should bring more relief to Northern California. Heavy rains caused mudslides and flooding there. Small towns in Sonoma County were hit hard when the Russian River went over its banks. According to Steve Sharpe from the county's Office of Emergency Services, three shelters housed about 80 people last night.

Mr. STEVE SHARPE (Office of Emergency Services, Sonoma County): The last time we had a flood to this extent was 1997. The river levels raise every year about this time, but it is unusual that we have flooding of this significance.

GOLDMAN: It's estimated right now there's more than $100 million in storm damage in Northern California. Officials hope the southern part of the state can now avoid that kind of destruction.

(Soundbite of parade; marching band music)

GOLDMAN: The annual Tournament of Roses Parade took place in Pasadena today; for the first time since 1955, in the rain. Marching bands marched despite the storm front that was expected to dump eight inches of rain on Southern California. With luck, officials say the area can avoid the damage seen up north.

In Texas, meanwhile, a state Forest Service official said they'll need all the luck they can get as the fires continue to burn. Tom Goldman, NPR News.

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