Wet weather and calmer winds allowed firefighters to move closer to a wildfire that had been threatening Tuesday night. Wednesday, a second volunteer firefighter was killed fighting the wildfires that have consumed close to 1 million acres across Texas over the past two weeks.
Elias Jaquez, 49, of the Cactus Volunteer Fire Department, died of fire-related injuries shortly after 4 a.m. Wednesday after he and three other firefighters attempted to put out a fire near County Road U, south of Dumas, Cactus City Manager Steve Schmidt-Witcher said. Dumas is almost 50 miles north of Amarillo. Volunteer firefighter Gregory Simmons, 51, of Eastland was killed last week after being struck by a vehicle as he fled a fire truck that was trapped in a wildfire-consumed pasture. Simmons’ funeral was Wednesday in Olden.
On Monday and Tuesday, wildfires threatened high-dollar homes and humble cabins around Possum Kingdom Lake, about 70 miles west of Fort Worth, and a wind shift sent fires racing toward the towns of Palo Pinto and Strawn south of the lake. “The only ones who can stay here are firefighters and people who have emergency vehicles,” said Dee Jackson, a communications specialist for Palo Pinto Fire Department, and one of the last to leave. Wildfires also threatened Strawn and Graford, but no official evacuation orders had been issued.
The unpredictability of the North Texas fires isn’t expected to end soon. As the latest cool front moves north into Oklahoma, warmer air is expected to move back into the area as the winds shift from the northeast back to the south and southeast, said National Weather Service meteorologist Daniel Huckaby. Temperatures should climb back into the 80s and 90s in coming days, but more moisture should lower the threat of the wildfires spreading quickly, he said.
The North Texas fire, known as the PK Complex Fire after four individual fires merged in Palo Pinto, Stephens and Young counties, has burned about 150,000 acres, the equivalent of more than 200 square miles, in four counties.
The fire has destroyed 149 homes around Possum Kingdom Lake since last week.
Palo Pinto County Judge David Nicklas ordered the lake closed to everyone except emergency workers. Water access on the lake is being curtailed because of the fire’s size and unpredictability.
In Graham, where residents spent much of Tuesday worried that they sat directly in the flames’ path, the wildfires stayed away. Authorities blocked southbound Farm Road 1287 out of Graham, escorting in people only to collect possessions from their homes or feed livestock. Both sides of the road between Graham and the north side of Possum Kingdom Lake were blackened from fires that occurred Sunday and Monday.
The cool, damp weather was providing more favorable conditions causing the fire to “lay down” along the banks of the Brazos River, said Rudy Evenson, a spokesman for the Southern Area Type 1 Red Team from Georgia that has assumed command of the 208,000-acre PK Complex Fire.
Despite the favorable conditions on Wednesday, firefighters predict it will take days to bring the huge fire completely under control. “It’s really all about the weather,” Evenson said.