Texas gov. declares fire disaster

AUSTIN, Texas – Gov. Rick Perry issued a disaster proclamation for more than half the counties in Texas on Wednesday because of wildfires that have already destroyed at least two dozen buildings and could do more damage later this week.

Perry’s order makes 152 of the state’s 254 counties eligible for state assistance.

Fast-moving fires Tuesday destroyed buildings and consumed about 2,000 acres in north, central and west Texas. Two firefighters were injured when an 18-wheeler whose driver was blinded by smoke rear-ended their vehicle, officials said.

Low humidity trailing a fast-moving cold front created the wildfire threat. Roger Erickson of the weather service’s Fort Worth office said conditions were still ripe for wildfires but higher humidity “will get us a little bit of relief” Wednesday.

Some fires were caused by downed power lines as winds in North Texas were reported at more than 50 mph. Power was knocked out for thousands of Dallas customers and strong crosswinds resulted in delays of about 30 minutes for some flights at the Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport. More than 26 outbound flights were canceled.

The National Weather Service said the most severe wildfire risk was expected to move south on Thursday to areas including Austin, San Antonio and parts of South Texas. On Friday the threat will be greatest in parts of West Texas.

The conditions Tuesday were similar to the scenario in late 2005 and early 2006, when strong winds, low humidity and dry, high grasses and brush set the stage for massive fires that scorched 2.25 million acres statewide, destroyed more than 730 homes and killed 20 people, including two firefighters.

“It’s starting to seem like, ‘Here we go again,’” said Texas Forest Service spokeswoman Carrie Smith.