Some residents near Texas wildfire allowed to pick up belongings

FRITCH, Texas (AP) — Karla Burgin knew her father’s home had been destroyed by a wildfire in the Texas Panhandle that burned more than 150 buildings and forced evacuations, but she was eager to get inside Tuesday to see what might be left.

Her father is safe, staying with friends 30 miles south in Amarillo, and crews were combing through the area burned by the fire that began Sunday. Burgin said father built his home in Fritch for him and wife — a place that was everything to him now. Burgin’s mother died two years ago.

Her father told her, “Now I’m 72 years old and I don’t have anything,” Burgin recalled.

No smoke was apparent Tuesday in blue skies above the small town of about 2,100 residents. Lower temperatures and wind speeds, and higher humidity were helping those dealing with hotspots in the fire area, where authorities estimate about 156 structures were destroyed in the blaze.

Texas A&M Forest Service spokesman Troy Duchneaux said the fire was 75 percent contained Tuesday. Most of the town’s population was forced to evacuate.

Sheriff’s deputies were preparing to escort some residents whose homes may have burned so that they can retrieve medication and important documents. They also will be allowed to see if their pets might be nearby, though they will not be allowed to go searching for their animals, Hutchinson County Sheriff Don Johnson told residents at a community meeting Tuesday.

“It’s immediate needs,” he said.

Duchneaux said residents whose homes were spared by the fire may be able to return later in the day after emergency and utility crews finish assessing damage and searching for potential victims.

Among the structures destroyed in the fire that started Sunday are 89 homes, all north of Texas 136, which is the main road through Fritch.

Duchneaux said authorities have attributed the death of one person from an apparent heart attack Sunday to the fire, though details haven’t been released.

The wildfire was the first large fire this year in the Texas Panhandle. The region is in the most severe stage of drought after months of well-below rainfall totals and fire officials earlier this year warned wildfires could be worse in the area than in other parts of the state.

Burgin, whose own home in Fitch was spared by the fire, said she hopes to salvage her parents’ wedding photos and ones of her when she was a child. She said losing her father’s home still feels like a dream.

“You need to see it before it feels real,” she said.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

blog comments powered by Disqus