MOORE WILLIAMS
Tony Gutierrez  /  AP file
Zane Moore, left, and his girlfriend, Jeri Williams, watch over their dogs as firefighters spray their mobile home with water in an effort to save it from a wildfire in South Arlington, Texas, in December.
By Correspondent
NBC News
updated 1/12/2006 12:21:54 AM ET 2006-01-12T05:21:54

CADDO MILLS, Texas — As rancher Jerry Wood walks across his parched pasture in Hunt County, his feet crunch on the dry, brown grass.

“We just didn’t have any rainfall all year long,” Wood said as he surveyed his land. “It’s been mighty dry here.”

There’s not a cloud in the sky over North Texas. The National Weather Service has issued another “red flag warning” day, a time when heat, low humidity and strong winds combine to raise the danger of wildfires. Adding to the danger is the stunning lack of rainfall.

Rain gauges in parts of Texas and Oklahoma have been bone dry.  Wood’s ranch in North Texas normally gets about 44 inches of rainfall a year. In 2005, Hunt County’s official rain gauge measured just 17.58 inches, the driest year on record. The last rain, barely a third of an inch, fell back in November.

There was not a drop of rain in Hunt County in October or December, the first time that’s ever happened, according to National Weather Service records.

“We’re probably 8 to 10 feet low in all of our pools [ponds],” Wood said. “It’s a critical situation here.”

Stray spark lights fire
Wood should know. He is also a volunteer firefighter in the community of Caddo Mills.

And he is also a recent fire victim.

Part of Wood’s tinder-dry ranch burned in one of the hundreds of wildfires that have swept across Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, New Mexico and Colorado.

A spark from a welder’s torch three miles away started the grass fire that burned Wood’s ranch. The welder said when the spark landed at his feet, he tried to stomp it out, but the gusty winds blew the flames faster than he could run. The fire raced across 300 acres, charring hay fields and destroying an unoccupied home before volunteer firefighters could put it out.

“When you’re fighting these fires, you’re drained. It just takes everything out of you,” Wood said.

Firefighters from nearly 30 states have converged on Texas and Oklahoma to fight mammoth fires like the one that left the Texas town of Carbon in ashes last week.

The firestorms in the Southwest have charred more than 700,000 acres and destroyed hundreds of homes and almost burned small towns like Carbon, population 255, off the map.

Jody Forbus lost everything in the fast-moving fire.

“The fire was just whirling like tornadoes,” said Forbus, a pastor at a nearby church. “It’s just one of those things in life that is thrown your way and I guess it’s how you deal with it from this time forward that really determines your character and who we are.”

Fire and Ice
In Oklahoma, where a 10-acre fire near Sayre spread to more than 1,000 acres in just minutes, Gov. Brad Henry called on people to pray for rain.

The next day, 4 inches of snow fell on the smoldering landscape. It was enough to give weary firefighters a day off. But the snow has melted, the temperature is rising and the dry, gusty Southwest winds have returned.

It’s another red flag warning day.

Charles Hadlock is a producer and reporter for NBC News based in Dallas.

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