Wildfires burning homes at Possum Kingdom Lake

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by JIM DOUGLAS and CASEY NORTON

Bio | Email | Follow: @wfaajdouglas

WFAA

Posted on April 18, 2011 at 5:28 PM

Updated Monday, Apr 18 at 8:53 PM

Possum Kingdom Lake

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PALO PINTO COUNTY — Wildfires started consuming homes near the southern tip of Possum Kingdom Lake Monday afternoon as hundreds of volunteers struggled to contain the stubborn flames.

Aerial views from HD Chopper 8 showed at least two buildings ablaze just south of the Hell's Gate area on the lake in Palo Pinto County and more were being threatened.

Firefighters from Grapevine, Keller, Euless, Watauga and Colleyville  were furiously spraying water on vegetation around Hodge Ranch while coating the ranch house with flame-retardant chemicals as a wall of flames came over a ridge.

Chain saws were being used to knock down trees that are feeding the flames near Sportsman's World just south of the lake.

Firefighters and police officers have been going door-to-door in the area to ensure that all residents have evacuated from the area of imminent danger.

There aren't enough firefighters and there's not enough equipment to try and save all homes in the way of the advancing fire.

At the intersection of Highway 180 and Highway 16, a wildfire jumped across 180 and burned a business to the ground.

We can see huge black thunderheads of smoke billowing from the southeast tip of Possum Kingdom Lake, just a few miles north of here.

Those wildfires continue burning, and despite gallant efforts by firefighters the Possum Kingdom fire is considered to be just 15 percent contained, with more than 62,000 acres scorched.

The fire started in Stephens County last week and quickly spread east to Palo Pinto County. Fourteen-hundred firefighters from 34 states have joined the battle, and that figure does not include local volunteers.

The Texas Forest Service said flames have destroyed more than 50 homes in the resort area.

The fires burning around Possum Kingdom Lake seem to be everywhere at once, with stunned crews reporting flames shooting 100 feet into the sky.

To keep the fire from spreading east, road graders gouged a fire break along Higway 337 as bone-tired volunteers took a stand on the west side.

"It's jumped [Highway] 16, it's jumped 180... every road we've tried to stop it at, it's jumped," said Greenwood Rural Volunteer Fire Department member John Burgoyne.

His job on Monday was lighting backfires. "We're depriving the fire of fuel," he explained.

Burgoyne, 69, is a former IBM executive. He joined the Greenwood Rural VFD after a neighbor's house burned down in Parker County.

More than a half-dozen volunteer fire departments battled the wildfire along Highway 337. They've been organized into a state task force and ordered to stay for the next three days.

Assistant Parker County Fire Marshal Ron Schultz has been a professional firefighter for more than 30 years. He said he's never seen anything like this.

"It's something that you'll never forget when you see these fires for as far as you can see," he said.

The flames have been marching to the east today. The Texas Forest Service said this fire has now been elevated to a Level One disaster.

E-mail jdouglas@wfaa.com

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