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'Not looking good': Firefighters still on the job across East Texas

By Jimmy Isaac jisaac@news-journal.com
Sept. 5, 2011 at 5:32 a.m.


When asked for a morning report on fires in Upshur County, Fire Marshal Paul Steelman said simply, "It's not looking good."

While no new fires - other than flare-ups from Sunday blazes - have started in Upshur and Gregg counties, authorities said high sustained winds and increasingly drying air have maintained fires near Diana, Kilgore and northeastern Upshur County, among other areas.

At 9:51 a.m., Harrison County dispatchers sent fire crews back to Interstate 20 at the 600 mile marker southeast of Longview, where smoke was rising from both sides of the road. So far, there are no reports of the freeway being closed as it was Sunday.

"Right now, conditions are such that homeowners cannot control the fires," Gregg County Fire Marshal David Kidder said this morning. "If you are in the area where wildfires are burning in the next few days, get out immediately."

About 9:30 a.m., Steelman ordered the closure of Gardenia Road between Gilmer and Diana, because a wildfire appeared ready to jump the road.

Steelman advised East Texans to stay abreast of the fire situation across the region, monitor media reports and, "If they see thick smoke in their area, get out of the area."

Steelman, who is working from the Upshur County Emergency Operations Center in Gilmer, said he could see the Gladewater fire from a window, "and that sucker is going."

Shortly after 10:20 a.m., Harrison County dispatchers sent deputies to a residence at the intersection of Carter Road and Key Farm Road, where a woman was reportedly burning brush in her yard. The reported incident is close to a wildfire near Texas 43 and FM 2526 in southwestern Harrison County.

Kidder has sent out investigators to burned areas in search of people and destroyed property. He asked that any Gregg County resident who has lost property to contact the sheriff's office at (903) 236-8440 to make a report with the fire marshal.

Authorities have not released the identities of two people found burned at a charred home on Lincoln Springs Road near Gladewater, where a 20-year-old woman and her 18-month-old baby were reported missing. Identification is pending autopsy reports from the Tarrant County Medical Examiner, where the bodies were sent, Kidder said.

Kidder and Steelman cautioned East Texans that any spark - cigarette butts, matches, even a running lawnmower striking a rock - could ignite a wildfire.

"The conditions that we have in Gregg County right now are the worst I've ever seen. I've never seen fires behave the way they did (Sunday). They were fast-moving, over large areas and wind-driven, which is always most dangerous," Kidder said. "(People) don't understand how fast these fires move. People can become trapped."

Added Steelman, "I can say that any spark whatsoever can start a major wildfire right now."

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