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7 dead in Texas as crews hit fires from ground, air

BORGER, Texas – Using bulldozers and air tankers, firefighters struggled Monday to stop wind-blown wildfires that scorched more than 1,000 square miles of the drought-stricken Texas Panhandle.

The blazes were blamed for at least seven deaths, four of them in a crash on a smoke-shrouded highway over the weekend. About 1,900 people in seven counties were evacuated.

“This has been a very deadly wildfire season, but Texas communities have shown strength, and we’re going to continue fighting these fires from the ground and from the air,” said Rachael Novier, a spokeswoman for Gov. Rick Perry.

There was no immediate estimate of the number of homes damaged or destroyed. Firefighters used bulldozers to plow fire breaks in the parched earth, while air tankers dropped water on the flames.

Eleven fires burned across an estimated nearly 700,000 acres Monday. State fire crews fought more than 160 blazes in one 24-hour period.

The size of the scorched area easily eclipsed the 455,000 acres that burned in December and January, when the governor declared a disaster.

About 3.5 million acres have burned since Dec. 26.

A blaze near Borger covered 432,000 acres, a fire near Groom consumed 211,000 acres, and a fire south of Childress burned 20,000 acres. Authorities believed the fire near Borger was sparked by power lines feeding oil field equipment at a ranch.

One of the most intense fires burned Monday about 10 miles north of Pampa. Winds blew it toward the town of about 17,000 people, said Donny Hooper, a spokesman for Gray County Emergency Operations.

The wind dropped to 15 or 20 mph Monday, and the humidity rose. But no rain is expected in the region before Saturday.


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