Firefighters Making Progress in Texas Wildfires

Fire in a small canyon i i

hide captionThe smoke from this fire is blowing the opposite way the fire wants to advance. That's good news for firefighters because the wind blows the fire back on itself, slowing it down.

Jeff Brady, NPR
Fire in a small canyon

The smoke from this fire is blowing the opposite way the fire wants to advance. That's good news for firefighters because the wind blows the fire back on itself, slowing it down.

Jeff Brady, NPR

Firefighters in the Texas panhandle continue their efforts to contain grass fires that have burned almost one million acres. However, Wednesday's strong winds that sent flames marching 40 miles to the northeast have died down.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

New fires started today in the Southwest. Several in Oklahoma burned about 4,000 acres. A subdivision near Oklahoma City was threatened for a short time and 30 homes were evacuated. In Texas a shift in the wind has helped firefighters in the northeastern corner of the Panhandle. NPR's Jeff Brady spent the morning with crews fighting the east Amarillo complex of fires, which has burnt almost to the border of Oklahoma.

JEFF BRADY, reporting:

The flames at the northeast edge of this blaze aren't the rolling fireballs that charred so many acres earlier this week. Instead they're about knee-high, until they reach a juniper tree and then they flare up. In some spots the flames are out completely, thanks to a change in the wind. It was coming out of the Northeast this morning, and that's pushing the fire back onto itself and slowing it down. That's allowing ground crews to get close enough to fight the fire.

A hulking water tender from a nearby fire department rolls along a dirt road. JW Beason(ph) is standing on a platform that's mounted on the passenger's side of the front bumper. Whenever he encounters flames, the truck stops and he sprays them.

Mr. JW BEASON (Firefighter): If I don't jump the road, you're in pretty good shape. But this high wind, you can't depend on that and if they jump the road, then you're in trouble again.

BRADY: Beason has been working for almost 24 hours straight. He started fighting the fire on Sunday. He's had just a few short breaks and says he's running on adrenaline.

Mr. BEASON: This is the biggest fire I've ever seen. It's the biggest fire I've ever been on. I know yesterday I heard that they said 840,000 acres, and I would bet with what burned yesterday and today, that it's a million acre fire. And that's just not something you're ever going to see.

BRADY: Fire officials say the number of burned acres is just under a million. Still that makes it the biggest fire in Texas history.

Mr. BEASON: The bad part about this is we're just now getting into fire season. You know, it's not even summer yet. We haven't had any rain. I just kind of cringe when the fire beeper goes off.

BRADY: I'm standing on a dirt road at a water refueling station. There's big tanker trucks filled with water. This where the smaller trucks come to get refilled with water. But across the road there's a fellow walking alongside, and he's holding one of those red roadside flares. It's lit and he's actually dipping down into the brush lighting the brush on fire.

Unidentified male: He's starting a back burn, that fire is coming in, we're wanting to burn all of this out right here. So it's going to back burn back over to where it's already burned.

BRADY: Chad Argonbright(ph) is with the Perryton Fire Department. He says burning the brush ahead of the fire will starve the flames as they approach.

Mr. CHAD ARGONBRIGHT (Firefighter): They started doing it earlier and somebody come along and put the fire out. So it kind of defeated the purpose.

BRADY: You get kind of focused of putting fires out and even the ones that are supposed to be there.

Mr. ARGONBRIGHT: Yeah, exactly, yeah. They're as wound up, I guess, want water.

BRADY: Fire crews have the luxury of joking now because the situation seems a bit less serious. Officials say this blaze is now pretty much contained. They just hope the wind stays calm.

Jeff Brady, NPR News, Perryton, Texas.

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