Rain helps crews fighting east Texas wildfire

Reuters News
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Posted: Jun 22, 2011 6:25 PM
Rain helps crews fighting east Texas wildfire

By Karen Brooks

AUSTIN, Texas (Reuters) - Heavy rains over east Texas early on Wednesday gave firefighters some relief in battling a devastating wildfire that has displaced 1,800 people and destroyed dozens of homes, authorities said on Wednesday.

Up to two inches of rain fell overnight soaking a swath of Texas from San Antonio to the Louisiana border -- only a temporary reprieve given the drought conditions in the area, but welcome nonetheless.

"We're very grateful for it, and these guys are hopefully going to get some rest today, and work on some equipment, and catch up," Richard Reuse of the Texas Forest Service told Reuters.

He said rainfall helped shrink the Dyer Mill Fire, which has been burning an hour outside Houston since Sunday, to 5,280 acres.

The fire has displaced some 1,800 people and charred 35 homes, and was 30 percent contained on Wednesday.

The story was different in drought-parched West Texas, which saw no rain as the largest wildfire burning in the state grew by about 50 percent overnight.

The White Hat fire, an hour's drive from Abilene, had charred some 62,000 acres by early Wednesday. Fire crews had only managed to contain about 45 percent of its perimeter, authorities said.

Nature provided some relief on Wednesday to firefighters battling blazes in the parched Southwest.

Lighter winds continued to help crews in eastern Arizona gain the upper hand fighting the nation's largest active blaze -- the Wallow Fire in the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest.

That blaze has consumed nearly 528,000 acres, or 825 square miles, of mostly ponderosa pine forest in Arizona's White Mountains area near the New Mexico border.

Investigators say it was likely caused by an unattended campfire late last month.

Authorities said the last remaining evacuees, around 200 residents of Luna, New Mexico, just east of the Arizona border, were allowed home at midnight on Tuesday.

"Winds are going to be favorable for the firefighters today. They are coming out of the west and not very strong," said Kelly Wood, a spokesman for the fire team tackling the blaze.

Easing winds also helped crews battling a fire burning a few miles from Santa Fe in New Mexico, which had torched nearly 5,000 acres and remained just 5 percent contained early Wednesday.

Four hundred firefighters and nine helicopters have been strengthening fire lines along the southern portion of the Pacheco Fire.

"If the winds come back, we're not sure we can hold the line," New Mexico Fire Information Officer Lorie Cook told Reuters on Wednesday.

"It's supposed to be abnormally warm today, higher highs than normal, so you never know what can happen."

The cause of the Pacheco fire is still unknown.

(Additional reporting by Tim Gaynor and Zelie Pollon; Editing by Jerry Norton)