Residents of fire-swept Texas, Oklahoma mourn losses; more windy weather in forecast |

Residents of fire-swept Texas, Oklahoma mourn losses; more windy weather in forecast

Associated Press Writer

CROSS PLAINS, Texas – Gov. Rick Perry toured this wildfire-ravaged town Thursday and urged counties to prohibit fireworks around the New Year’s holiday, warning “the state of Texas is a tinderbox.”Wildfires raced through grass dried out by the region’s worst drought in 50 years earlier this week, charring nearly 200 homes and killing four people in Texas and Oklahoma.Severe drought, wind gusts of 40 mph and temperatures reaching the low 80s set the stage for the fires. Authorities believe they were mostly set by people ignoring fire bans and burning trash, shooting fireworks or throwing out cigarettes.”Truly be careful with your activities, because people’s lives are on the line,” Perry said.In central Oklahoma, grass fires flared in windy weather Thursday, consuming hundreds of acres of land and threatening scattered homes. By late afternoon, the flames appeared to ease as firefighters gained the upper hand on the blazes, said fire Maj. Brian Stanaland.Many fires in Texas had been contained, but unseasonably dry and hot conditions persisted.The National Weather Service predicted a return of hazardous conditions on Saturday, prompting fears that New Year’s fireworks could spark another round of fires.”It’s not going to be a good day to throw up fireworks,” meteorologist Alan Moller said. “This could lead to some really nasty fires.”Patrick Burke, a National Weather Service meteorologist in Norman, Okla., said little if any rain was forecast for that state over the next seven days. Strong wind and higher-than-normal temperatures were expected.President Bush, who is staying this week at his Texas ranch, was briefed about the fires Thursday, according to White House spokesman Trent Duffy. The Agriculture Department is lending equipment and firefighters to help battle blazes in Texas and Oklahoma, Duffy said.Cross Plains, a working-class town about 115 miles west of Fort Worth, was the hardest-hit community, losing about 90 homes and several other buildings, including a church, on Tuesday. Two of the state’s three deaths were reported there, including Andrew Shepard’s 89-year-old bedridden mother.Shepard, 45, who couldn’t get back inside his house to help his mother, was relieved by Perry’s arrival, saying “we’ll get more help by him seeing the devastation.”In all, the grass fires destroyed about 120 homes across Texas and about 75 in Oklahoma, authorities said.This year has been the fifth-driest year on record for north and central Texas, where most of the fires happened. The annual rainfall in the Dallas-Fort Worth area is about 16 inches less than the average of about 35 inches. Oklahoma has received about 24 inches of rain this year, about 12 inches less than normal.—Associated Press writer Murray Evans in Oklahoma City contributed to this report.—On the Net:National Interagency Fire Center: http://www.nifc.govAssociated Press

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