COLLIN COUNTY — Firefighters battled heat and exhaustion on Wednesday as high wind, high temperatures, and dry conditions fueled two intense fires — including one that killed an 80-year-old man.
"I've got a bad feeling it's gonna be a long summer," said Collin County Fire Marshal Mike Smith. "It's still spring, and the land is already scorched."
In the last week, Smith said there have been more than a dozen grass, brush or structure fires.
On Wednesday morning, Harold Clem was burning brush on his property near Lowry Crossing — even though it was a "no burn day."
The fire got out of control and Clem died.
It was one year and one day after he lost his wife of more than 60 years.
"I feel definitely sure they are together," said Jan Clem, the couple's daughter. "His health had declined recently. I am glad he's not in pain and not suffering.
"I am finding comfort that my dad lived a really good life," she added.
Jan Clem said it was a miracle that the fire didn't continue to spread out of control. The property is surrounded by thick woods.
"The whole county could've been in danger," she said.
Smith said the dry conditions in Collin County could prompt him to recommend commissioners enact a burn ban soon. Based on the scale used to measure fire danger, Smith said conditions in late May 2012 are already identical to what they were on July 1 last year.
Hours after the fire on Clem's property, a home in Princeton caught fire.
Fire Chief Mike Woody said the homeowner was welding in his garage and a spark hit a gas can. The man survived, but within minutes his garage was destroyed and his neighbor's home was damaged.
"It can set off and with the wind blowing so much, you can't hardly stop it," Woody said. "It will spread faster than you can drive."
The volunteer firefighters who responded to both scenes were overcome with heat and exhaustion. At least three of them needed hosing down or medical help from paramedics.
Smith is worried the upcoming Memorial Day weekend will force them into action again.
"Any outdoor burning, outdoor cooking — take care of each other, look out for each other," he said. "Just watch out."