Fires in Texas, Fierce Storms in Midwest Wildfires raging through the Texas Panhandle have claimed at least seven lives, and fierce storms in several Midwestern states have killed at least 10 more. Alex Chadwick speaks with Danny Richards, fire marshal for Hutchinson County, Texas, about battling the drought-fueled blazes. Madeleine Brand discusses the Midwestern storms with Jonathan Keeling, editor of the University of Kansas student newspaper, The University Daily Kansan. Storms have forced the temporary closure of the school.
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Fires in Texas, Fierce Storms in Midwest

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Fires in Texas, Fierce Storms in Midwest

Fires in Texas, Fierce Storms in Midwest

Fires in Texas, Fierce Storms in Midwest

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Wildfires raging through the Texas Panhandle have claimed at least seven lives, and fierce storms in several Midwestern states have killed at least 10 more. Alex Chadwick speaks with Danny Richards, fire marshal for Hutchinson County, Texas, about battling the drought-fueled blazes. Madeleine Brand discusses the Midwestern storms with Jonathan Keeling, editor of the University of Kansas student newspaper, The University Daily Kansan. Storms have forced the temporary closure of the school.

MADELEINE BRAND, host:

From the studios of NPR West, this is DAY TO DAY. I'm Madeleine Brand.

ALEX CHADWICK, host:

And I'm Alex Chadwick. Coming up, an angry federal judge says prosecutors have broken rules in the trials of al-Qaida conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui. She may rule against a death sentence for him.

BRAND: But first, natural disaster news in the central part of the country: Fires and tornados that have killed more than a dozen people. We'll begin with fires, since they're still going on, in northern Texas. About 1,000 square miles burned over the weekend, as wind pushed wildfires across the Texas panhandle.

People died because they got caught in the flames, and because the smoke was so thick on local highways that it caused accidents.

CHADWICK: Danny Richards is fire marshal for Hutchinson County, Texas. That's about 40 miles northeast of Amarillo in the Texas Panhandle. Mr. Richards, what happened in your county?

Mr. DANNY RICHARDS (Fire Marshal, Hutchinson County, Texas): Well, yesterday we got a report of a fire at 11:00 in the morning. But the weather conditions were just unbelievably terrible. We had gusts up to 60 miles per hour.

We've not had any rain in a month, a month, so our fire conditions were extreme. But have a fire break out on a day like yesterday, with the weather conditions they were, we knew that we were going to be in for a long battle--about two to three hundred thousand acres in our area. Up until yesterday, the largest fire that we've ever experienced was 31,000.

CHADWICK: You're saying, just in your county, it burned two or three hundred thousand acres in just a day?

Mr. RICHARDS: Yes. The fire was moving 40 to 45 miles per hour. In fact, it was one of the most unfortunate set of circumstances. Our fire trucks were not even able to keep up with the head of the fire, because we've never had one move that fast. It swept through at an incredible speed.

We thought that we could stop the fire at a four-lane highway. And usually, that technique does work. But yesterday, with the winds gusting the way they were, it jumped it. And we were not able to stop the fire at all. In fact, it still continues to burn at this time.

CHADWICK: How do you alert people about something like that? Or can you, even, if it's going that fast?

Mr. RICHARDS: Well, we got on all the known radio stations and our weather alert systems. We even sounded sirens in the cities that were going to be in the path. We did everything we knew we could do to try to alert the people that a fire was coming their way.

Now, it is moved out of our area. It's probably 60 to 70 miles from us at this time. But we were not able to stop it through the night. The firefighters worked all through the night, but still unsuccessful at making a stop.

CHADWICK: Danny Richards, fire marshal for Hutchinson County, Texas. Mr. Richards, thank you for speaking with us.

Mr. RICHARDS: Okay. Thank you.

BRAND: Now, to those tornados in the Midwest. One of the ripped through Lawrence, Kansas yesterday, and now the University of Kansas is closed. Jonathan Keeling is editor of the student newspaper there, The University Daily Kansan. And welcome to the program.

Mr. JONATHAN KEELING (Editor, The University Daily Kansan): Thank you for having me on.

BRAND: Did you see the tornado?

Mr. KEELING: I was in bed about 8 or 8:15 Sunday morning, and my bed sits right underneath a window. And all of a sudden, you heard the wind pick up, and slowly it got much louder than anything I've ever heard. And I started to hear things pelt the window.

So, you could see things swirling around, and things blowing down the street. You could see some rotation in the clouds.

BRAND: Now, I've heard cars were taken up by these tornados, and cargo containers and things like that, and that there was hail the size of softballs. Did you see any of that?

Mr. KEELING: Well, I saw an air conditioning unit was blown off the top of one of our dorms here. And this is a seven-story dorm building, so an air conditioner unit for a building like that is pretty good size. That was taken completely off of the roof.

BRAND: And why was the campus closed?

Mr. KEELING: One of the numbers I looked at last night as we were putting our paper together was a statement from the provost, that said about 60 percent of the buildings on campus had suffered either some damage to significant damage from the storm. The campus computer center, where all the servers are hosted, lost a good portion of its roof.

The campus has a lot of trees on it, as well. A fair number of those were completely toppled over. And we're not talking little trees here. As I was walking into work this morning, I saw an evergreen that's probably got a tree trunk two or three feet in diameter that was completely on its side.

BRAND: And do you know when the university is going to reopen?

Mr. KEELING: Well, everything I've heard from the provost and the chancellor indicates tomorrow. They have all the facilities people that work on campus in at work and cleaning things up. Well, I guess we'll see tomorrow if that's way it's going to be.

BRAND: Jonathan Keeling is editor of The University Daily Kansan. That's the student newspaper for the University of Kansas in Lawrence. And Jonathan Keeling, thank you.

Mr. KEELING: Thank you for having me on.

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