Texas sheriff: Area hit by fire won't recover soon

POSSUM KINGDOM LAKE, Texas (AP) - A once-picturesque lakeside community will take years to recover since a massive wildfire blackened grassy fields and turned upscale resort homes into ash heaps, a Texas sheriff said Thursday.

Firefighters made more progress in containing the blaze that's charred nearly 150 square miles in three North Texas counties, but it's unclear when residents will be allowed to return to the Possum Kingdom Lake area, Palo Pinto County Sheriff Ira Mercer said. Since starting a week ago in the lakeside area about 70 miles west of Fort Worth, the fire has destroyed about 160 of the community's 3,000 homes.

"It will be years before this is back to what it used to be," Mercer said Thursday, standing near a blackened field where the smell of smoke was thick and wind gusts blew ashes in the air.

The blaze is one of several burning in the drought-stricken state, including two massive wildfires in West Texas.

On Thursday, fire crews under a light drizzle continued dousing smoldering heaps and chopping down trees to prevent small fires from spreading in the still-burning trunks. The Possum Kingdom Lake area fire was about 20 percent contained, fire officials said.

Besides the danger of smaller fires popping up, the area is still not safe for homeowners to return because of large tree branches, nails, broken glass and other debris, said Liz Caldwell, a spokeswoman for federal incident management team coordinating the Possum Kingdom Lake area fire.

"No resident will be able to come back in until the area is totally safe," Caldwell said.

In one area of the lakeside community atop cliffs overlooking the lake, only three walls of a home remained - and its garage that had been untouched by the flames. Next door, a stone fireplace was the only thing that survived the blaze. Some docks and boats in the lake below showed no signs of the fire.

In the rural area, some fields were blackened to the soil. In other places, trees and shrubs were untouched as the fire appeared to have raced in different directions - apparently because of shifting winds or tactics used to stop the fire, some fire crews said.

Ted Ryan, a National Weather Service meteorologist, said that while the storm system didn't bring significant rain to the fire area in North Texas, it pushed overnight temperatures into the 50s and brought high humidity that ended up helping firefighters. But the few days of relief was about to end, with high temperatures and higher wind gusts predicted for Friday.


Ball reported from Dallas. Associated Press writer Jamie Stengle in Dallas also contributed to this report.


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