Blog: PK firefighters make progress, but more work to come

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Staff and Wire Reports

Posted on August 31, 2011 at 4:36 PM

Updated Thursday, Sep 1 at 10:26 PM

Palo Pinto grass fire

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A fast-moving wildfire destroyed more than three dozen homes and was threatening hundreds more near Possum Kingdom Lake, forcing evacuations of several neighborhoods and dozens of children from a YMCA camp, officials said.

9:04p The Possum Kingdom fire is now believed to cover 6,500 acres and has destroyed 39 homes and nine RV's. The fire is 50 percent contained, but 300-400 homes remain threatened.

The Wise County fire has grown to 200 acres and threatened 20 homes. Five homes have been verified as lost, as well as several surrounding buildings. It is also 50 percent contained.

6:15p Firefighters in Possum Kingdom feel good about their progress, but flames shot up again Thurday afternoon. However no additional homes burned and no evacuations were ordered Thursday.

News 8 spoke to Larry Anderson, a retired Dallas fire chief who watched his own home burn in Palo Pinto County, then kept on fighting the fires.

"In 34 years with the fire department, I've seen a lot of buildings burn," Anderson said. "But I've never been on that end of it."

A few hours later, his neighborhood was an inferno.

"Then I looked up and I saw a wall of fire, probably 100- to 120-feet tall," Anderson said. "It looked like a tidal wave moving at about 30 miles an hour."

Anderson and two other men fought the flames with a small brush truck until it was hopeless. They barely escaped with their lives.

"I stayed about another three hours," Anderson said, as he was overcome with emotion. "I was able to do a lot of good."

About 280 firefighters have joined the battle and are being helped through the air and on foot.

Volunteers were giving out food and water, but they said they would need a lot more. There is a lot more work to do in Possum Kingdom. -Jim Douglas in Palo Pinto County.

4:52p The Texas Forest Service now says six homes are threatened in the Sportsman's World area and the fire is roughly 100 acres. The southwest corner of the fire made a run towards Highway 16 Thursday afternoon, and 50 of those 100 acres are on the west side of the highway.

They now estimate the total size of the Possum Kingdom fire at 6,600 acres and it is 50 percent contained.

4:27p Officials say most of those evacuating the Sportsman's World area are doing so because of the smoke kicked up by pouring water on the flames, not because their homes are at risk. The blaze is relatively small compared to the fires they have seen in the area this week. The view from HD Chopper 8 did not show any structures in immediate danger.

3:17p There is a fire in the vicinity of Sportsman's World. Residents in the area are being notified of the fire. Deputies have set up a roadblock at the entrance of Sportsman's World to keep people from coming into the neighborhood. They are also encouraging people to leave.

NOON: The number of home destroyed in the Palo Pinto County wildfires has risen to at least 40. The number of acres charred has grown to 6,600. However, the containment of the fire has also risen, with 50 percent now contained. The efforts to extinguish the fire continue by air and land. People living at The Ranch, The Harbor and The Peninsula on Possum Kingdom Lake will be allowed to return home today.

"I'm certainly hoping we have this situation under control to the point where it's comfortable and safe to be here," said Ira Mercer, Palo Pinto County Sheriff's Department. 

Areas at the entrance of Sportsman's World and Highway 16 and FM 123 continued to be blocked due to dangers.  - Cynthia Vega in Palo Pinto County.

6:53a The latest on the 101 Ranch Fire is that it's 6,200 acres and 30 percent contained. As we reported last night, it looks like 39 homes were lost. Overnight, it actually was pretty calm. We have four air tankers ready today, which can drop 8,000 gallons at a time. - Tom Bergund, Texas Forest Service

6:51a Only 25 percent of the fire that sparked up Wednesday night has been contained. There has been no injuries reported. State troopers remain on hand and have shut off traffic about four miles south of one of the largest burning areas at The Cliffs Resort. An estimated 39 homes have burned in the southeastern area of Possum Kingdom Lake.

The Texas Forest Service said they set up a command center near the water. At the site, fire embers were blowing onto crews equipment, sparking a fire in the midst of the center. They were forced to shutdown the site and relocate. - Cynthia Vega in Palo Pinto County

6:50a We just got off the phone with the electric co-op that serves the Possum Kingdom Lake area. They say 1,300 customers currently are without power, most of them in subdivision known as The Cliffs. The fire also caused infrastructure damage. Repair crews are on the job, focusing on the main feeder line. They hope to have power restored to most of the area by Friday night. - WFAA


WEDNESDAY, AUGUST 31

10:01p There are still a lot of flames licking at the roadways, threatening neighborhoods surrounding Possum Kingdom Lake late tonight. This was supposed to be the day that people could return to their homes to check for damage. But the roadblocks are still up, and there is much uncertainty here tonight. The fire line hopped across Highway 16 and burned through grassland, sweeping toward The Peninsula development across the river. By nightfall, weary firefighters had managed to keep the flames away from The Peninsula. Bulldozers and firefighters continued the work through the night. As Labor Day approaches, innkeepers in this lakeside community wonder if they will still be able to welcome vacationers for the long weekend holiday. - Chris Hawes reporting from Possum Kingdom Lake

9:30p Texas Forest Service spokesman Tom Berglund says a jet tanker aircraft that was expected to provide a boost to beleaguered firefighters didn't show up. "I don't know what happened to the DC-10," he said, noting that work continues to contain the massive fire. "I think we got lots of water on it, and actually it's quieting down a little bit tonight. Hopefully they can make some good ground around the edges of it." - WFAA

9:21p The Texas Forest Service says the 6,200-acre wildfire at Possum Kingdom Lake is now 30 percent contained, but as many as 400 homes remain at risk. - WFAA

6:03p "We need prayers from everybody in Texas and the whole world," said evacuee Sylvia Overton. "I don't know if my house is going to be OK, I really don't."

We first met Overton on Tuesday when she escaped from her home at The Cliffs just minutes before the fire spread through her neighborhood.

On Wednesday, we found her snatching up clothing at her refuge at the Harbor Inn as the fire drew closer, spreading to the peninsula and burning more homes in The Cliffs.

"Where Oak Tree and Bay Hill Circle go, three houses went up," Overton said. "We saw those three houses explode in flame."

As homeowners and guests streamed out with suitcases, the Harbor Inn's sales director borrowed a privately-owned fire truck and stationed himself at a ridge — watching as the fire grew closer to jumping an inlet of Possum Kingdom Lake.

Sheriff Ira Mercer evacuated the Harbor and Ranch developments as well as the rest of the peninsula. Were residents heeding his urgent warning?

"I hope they do; if they don't, we're taking their information so we can notify their next of kin," he said.

More than a dozen more homes and buildings burned on Wednesday, bringing the two-day total to 39. The flames overran nine deer camps as well.

"Compared to what it was this morning, we're back to square one," Sheriff Mercer said. "It's as bad  or worse than it was yesterday."

There have been several reports of injuries, but Mercer said none were believed to be serious — consisting mainly of scratches, twisted ankles and some minor burns. - Chris Hawes reporting from Possum Kingdom Lake

6:05p The fire at Possum Kingdom Lake has shut down Highway 16 just north of Highway 180. We're told the road is impassible several miles after you turn off on Highway 16 heading up toward Gaines Bend. People trying to get in today to check on their properties and to help firefighters had to be turned away. - WFAA 

5p Evacuations have now been ordered at The Harbor, The Ranch and The Peninsula communities on the north side of Possum Kingdom Lake. The 6,200-acre wildfire took a nasty turn on Wednesday afternoon; firefighters threw a lot at it, but officials said almost nothing is working.

By three o'clock, flames charged over a ridge and approached the Possum Kingdom dam. Tom Hardeston watched helplessly. "My house is right through here, though it may be gone," he said.

At 3:20, the Texas Forest Service made an emergency announcement.

"As you've seen, the conditions have changed radically," said spokesman John Nicols. "The IC is in the process of starting to evacuate."

They pulled out of their command observation post and told journalists to get out, too.

"They were putting a lot of water and a lot of retardant on that fire, and it wasn't slowing it down," Nicols said.

South of the fire, the owner of a general store on Highway 16 gave away all the ice he could to volunteers helping firefighters, and to ranchers trying to save their herds.

"I'm just moving them from pasture to pasture," said Cindi McCoy. "As one pasture burns, I'm moving them back to that one and bring them back around."

One volunteer thought her home was safe in an area called The Peninsula. But two hours later, flames and embers forced her community to be evacuated.

"It's got a river to jump; that's nothing for this fire as aggressive as it is right now," Nicols said.

Firefighters estimate the fire is currently only 25 percent contained.

As of now, 39 homes have been burned and 9 RVs have also been consumed by the flames. - Jim Douglas reporting from Possum Kingdom Lake

4:49p After firefighters had a good grip on controlling the wildfire near Possum Kingdom Lake earlier on Wednesday, conditions have deteriorated through the day. A nearby weather service reporting station put the temperature at 104 degrees, with 12 mph winds and humidity down to 16 percent. A jumbo jet capable of dropping 12,000 gallons of water and fire retardant is near the scene and other aircraft have been warned to get out of the way.  - Troy Bush, HD Chopper 8

4:43p The Texas Forest Service said factors contributing to the spread of the Palo Pinto County fire include dry air, increased wind and recent lightning activity. The report said extremely dry juniper, pine and oak trees helped speed the spread of the fire along the tree tops. - WFAA

4:31p The YMCA says buses will evacuate about 90 students from Camp Grady Spruce as a precaution. Spokeswoman Sarah Byrom said while there is no immediate threat to the camp from the wildfire, local officials have ordered everyone on the peninsula where the camp is located to depart. Byrom said camp personnel were in communication with parents and that they, too, will leave once all students have left and the property is secured. - WFAA

11:15a Palo Pinto County Sheriff Ira Mercer said 5,130 acres have burned in the wildfires that started on Tuesday. He is reporting that 25-30 homes have been destroyed. For those who have lost their homes or forced to evacuate, the Red Cross has set up a shelter at First Baptist Church. 

There is concern about the weather leading into the early afternoon between 1 p.m. and 2 p.m. If the humidity drops and the wind picks up and it gets drier, the sheriff said they may be in more trouble. 

Emergency officials have called in back up assistance to prepare. Three heavy aircraft are set and ready to spread fire retardant. Five B helicopters and five single engine airplanes to get were others aircraft cannot go. A DC-10 tanker is in route from California which can carry large amounts of fire retardant to hot spots.

6:50a In the early morning light, the homes of The Cliffs Resort that were threatened Tuesday evening appeared to be about one to three miles away from a hot spot early this morning. Brush trucks could be seen going from house to house searching for any possible hot spots closer to the homes. - Troy Bush in HD Chopper 8 in Possum Kingdom

6:46a Hot spots have reignited in the Possum Kingdom area. With winds kicking up as the sun comes up, fire concerns continue. Sheriff Ira Mercer said about 150 residents of The Cliffs Resort were evacuated Tuesday night,. and there were also evacuations on the Brazos River. "We just need to try to jump on the fire while the conditions are right to fight it," Mercer told News 8 morning. The sheriff said over 200 firefighters were at the scene and that the Forest Service was bringing in a task force to help with the battle. - Steve Stoler in Palo Pinto County

6:05a The fires that could be seen from Fort Worth Tuesday night have now died down, with several hot spots still visible from the distance. The last of the fires appear to be burning themselves out. - Troy Bush in HD Chopper 8 in Possum Kingdom

6:02a Things have certainly calmed down dramatically since the late evening hours in Palo Pinto County Tuesday evening. Texas state troopers have blocked off an area of The Cliffs Resort, a neighborhood that took the brunt of the damage from the wildfire.

Around 125 firefighters were at the scene overnight battling the blaze. The fast moving wildfire forced the evacuations of homeowners in several Possum kingdom neighborhoods, which was the same area hit by fires that destroyed 160 homes in April.

When the smoke finally cleared last night, crews discovered that 3,500 acres were destroyed.

The evacuations were chaotic, with some residents forced to flee by boat with Highway 16 cut off due to the blaze. No one was killed in the fire. - Steve Stoler in Palo Pinto County

6a At least 30 homes and 3,300 acres of land have been destroyed by a massive wildfire in Possum Kingdom. The Possum Kingdom area is about 30 miles west of Mineral Wells. The Cliffs Resort neighborhood in the southern area of Possum Kingdom has suffered the worst damage.

While not as gusty as Tuesday night, the high winds this morning appeared to keep the fire danger alive in the area. - WFAA


TUESDAY

10:54p A fast-moving wildfire destroyed at least 25 homes and was threatening 125 others in a North Texas lakeside community late Tuesday after forcing evacuations of several neighborhoods and dozens of children from a YMCA camp, officials said.

The fire, which began earlier in the day, had spread to an estimated 7,500 acres in Palo Pinto County by late Tuesday night, Texas Forest Service spokesman John Nichols said. The fire comes just four months after massive blazes in roughly the same area scorched hundreds of thousands of acres and destroyed 160 homes in the Possum Kingdom Lake area.

No major injuries have been reported and fire officials are investigating what may have ignited the blaze, which wasn't contained as of late Tuesday night.

"We're in severe drought conditions so just the tiniest little spark can start a wildfire," Texas Forest Service spokeswoman April Saginor said.

The two groups of elementary school students were evacuated from Camp Grady Spruce at Possum Kingdom Lake, though the children were never in danger because the site is across the lake from the flames and the wind was blowing in the opposite direction, YMCA spokeswoman Sarah Byrom said. The outdoor educational camp is part of the YMCA of Metropolitan Dallas.

Part of a state highway was shut down in the area because of tall flames and huge plumes of smoke, officials said. - Associated Press

10:35p The National Weather Service says there is a maximum fire threat for all of North Texas on Wednesday. The threat index scale of 1-100 is at 100 in every county in the region. - WFAA

10p The sky is glowing orange once again tonight over Possum Kingdom Lake. Officials say the massive wildfire does seem to be slowing a bit Tuesday evening because of slowing winds and rising humidity, but this fire spread so far and so fast during the afternoon that some places simply didn't have a chance. We witnessed a condominium complex engulfed by the wall of fire, buildings collapsing before our eyes, with nothing left standing but stairwells. The fire then turned north toward a neighborhood.

"It came through here so fast, there was no stopping it," said Palo Pinto County Sheriff Ira Mercer. "Right now, they're over on the next ridge trying to save those houses." He said the flames were moving more quickly than during April's firestorm.

Earlier, we watched the fire cut off Highway 16 as crews gathered for the battle. Some firefighters were cut off from colleagues by the flames.

The Texas Forest Service assigned 10 aircraft to battle the fire; at lest 35 fire departments responded. They did their best.

There are about 200 firefighters at this hour, including two task forces from the TFS. They will stay on the job through the night. There is no estimate on how much -- if any -- of the blaze is contained, and although officials said the winds were dropping, they seem to be picking up now, and that can only be bad news. - Jim Douglas in Palo Pinto County

9:37p HD Chopper 8 has refueled and is over the fire scene again. Images show a wall of uncontrolled red-orange flames in several locations around Possum Kingdom Lake; we can't pinpoint the locations because there are few landmarks to go by. - WFAA

9:17p Reporter Jim Douglas says he witnessed the wildfire sweeping through homes as he stood nearby. We'll have remarkable video on News 8 at 10 shortly after it goes up on the satellite; the footage will then be available here on WFAA.com. - WFAA

8:10p At least 25 homes and an apartment building have now been reportedly destroyed by the 4,000-acre wildfire near Possum Kingdom Lake. There is one known injury: A man who was trying unsuccessfully trying to help save a neighbor's home from the approaching wall of fire. The man's injuries were said to not be life-threatening. Winds gusting to 25 mph didn't help firefighters struggling to control the blaze in triple-digit temperatures. - WFAA

7:58p A fire official says at least 20 homes have been destroyed and another 125 are threatened by the wildfire near Possum Kingdom Lake. - AP

7:36p A Facebook report posted by Steve Anderson says power is out in both The Cliffs and Gaines Bend subdivisions. Anderson said he was told it could be three or four days before electric service can be restored. - WFAA

7p A view from HD Chopper 8 shows at least one structure totally engulfed in flames, but it appears that a line of flame-retardant chemicals dropped on the area by aircraft has saved a number of shoreline homes on Possum Kingdom Lake —at least at this moment. - WFAA photojournalist Gary Ultee

6:52p The fire has now jumped a cove on the shore of Possum Kingdom Lake, putting many more homes at risk. - WFAA photojournalist Gary Ultee

6:48p A line of fire is approaching some homes on the shore of Possum Kingdom Lake, but there is evidence of red-colored fire retardant dropped by aircraft ahead of the flames. - WFAA photojournalist Gary Ultee

6:31p There is fire on both the east and west sides of Highway 16, and volunteer firefighters say this fire is moving much more quickly than the huge fire that scorched the same area in April. - Jim Douglas in Palo Pinto County

6:26p Some fifth graders at Camp Grady Spruce are being evacuated, according to the YMCA. - WFAA

6:18p Jackie Fewell, a real estate agent with Pondera Properties, was in the area in April during the devastating wildfires. "It's just like deja vu. We cannot believe that this is happening again," she said.  "We know that the entrance to The Cliffs has been lost along with the administration sales office over there. We know there are structures lost in The Cliffs; we just can't be sure which ones really right now. I'm on the shoreline across from The Cliffs right now watching the fire make its way through, but none of the homes right on the shoreline across from me; it's behind them." - WFAA

6:13p A live picture from HD Chopper 8 shows a fire reaching the foundation of a home near Possum Kingdom Lake with no firefighters in evidence. - WFAA

6:10p "This thing is kicking our butts," one volunteer firefighter told reporter Jim Douglas on the south edge of the massive fire. "We were about 50 yards, perhaps, from a cedar tree that went up as these flames marched back to the west, and it looks like they're about to come back across Highway 16," Douglas said. - Jim Douglas in Palo Pinto County

6:05p "It's been a rapidly-moving fire. It's a big fire. It's threatening a lot of homes," said Texas Forest Service  spokeswoman April Saginor. "We do have  lot of resources on the ground and in the air. We have a team there that's facilitating a plan of attack, and this is a priority, and we're going to do the best we can to make some progress this evening."

"We're working real hard on structure protection. It's getting awfully close to some homes, but we've had no reports of anything destroyed at this time," Saginor said. "The high winds, the low humidity — all these things are kind of converging together, and it doesn't take much to start a fire." - WFAA

6p A sheriff's deputy said this fire really took them by surprise. Many homes are being threatened, but there has been no confirmation yet of any damage. Boat access has been set up across Possum Kingdom Lake from the fire as a precaution in case anyone needs to be evacuated. A shelter has been established about five miles from the fire at First Baptist Church of Possum Kingdom Lake on Highway 16. - Chris Hawes in Palo Pinto County

"This is very much, as they explain it to me, like a war footing out here. These flames are moving much faster than they did in April. It's a much more aggressive situation," Douglas said. "When we're quiet, we can hear the fire coming through the cedars and across the fields right toward us here on Highway 16."

"What they're trying to do now is to formulate a plan with their bulldozers and see what they can get done and start making some headway on this," Douglas added.

EARLIER UPDATES

As many as 50 homes are threatened.

Highway 16 north of highway 180 is closed.

Palo Pinto County Fire Marshal Steve Perdue said they are most concerned about residences around Possum Kingdom Lake and The Cliffs resort offices.

Authorities said the fire has a good wind behind it and plenty of fuel. They are trying to flank the fire and fight it by air, but the winds and brush in the area are working against them. There have been reports of 20- to 50-foot flame lengths and thick gray smoke is visible from miles around the fire.

It is the same community where 160 homes were destroyed in an April wildfire that burned in three counties for two weeks.

Police couldn't say how many people have been evacuated, as many homes in the area are weekend homes.

 

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