Image: Wildfire in Graham, Texas
Paul Moseley  /  AP
A truck races to a flaming hillside along Texas 16 on Friday in Graham, Texas. A wildfire sweeping across some 20,000 acres in North Texas has killed a firefighter, forced hundreds of evacuations — including an entire town — and destroyed at least 30 homes, state officials said Friday.
msnbc.com staff and news service reports
updated 4/15/2011 11:48:08 PM ET 2011-04-16T03:48:08

A volunteer firefighter died trying to protect a town that had been evacuated earlier Friday, while separate blazes destroyed at least 50 homes and forced the evacuation of hundreds of residents.

Gregory Simmons, 51, appeared to have been overcome with smoke, fell into a ditch and was consumed by the fire near the town of Gorman, officials said.

Crews were trying to save Gorman, a town with 1,200 residents about 120 miles southeast of Dallas. Some Gorman residents were provided shelter at a nearby church.

"The school, the nursing home and the whole city has been evacuated," Gorman City Clerk Jill Rainey said.

Strong winds were fueling fires that spanned about 655 square miles, according to the Texas Forest Service. Some of the fires have been burning for a week or more, including three in West Texas that have charred a combined 400,000 acres.

Another blaze has burned through 20,000 acres while moving from Stephens to Palo Pinto counties near Possum Kingdom Lake. That blaze consumed 30 homes.

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Texas Forest Service spokeswoman Holly Huffman said 200 homes had been evacuated and 275 people displaced since the fire began Wednesday.

The blaze was burning about 120 miles west of Dallas in a mostly rural area that has expensive lake homes and is a popular recreation spot.

Texas Parks and Wildlife spokesman Rob McCorkle said strong winds are increasing the chance of the fire closing off the only roads accessing Possum Kingdom State Park, so officials closed it and evacuated campsites.

In North Texas, another fire destroyed at least 30 homes near the town of Iowa Park in the Wichita Falls area and was threatening another 250, the Texas Forest Service said.

A military housing complex near Sheppard Air Force Base in Wichita Falls was evacuated for about two hours as the fire threatened to move in, but no buildings were damaged, base spokesman George Woodward said.

"It got close enough to scare a lot of people," Woodward said.

On Thursday, another fire briefly forced the evacuation of Rotan, population 1,600.

An unusually dry, warm year has sparked fast-spreading wildfires across Texas.

No one has died in the fires, but homes have been destroyed and livestock have burned. The fires have also destroyed thousands of acres of grass, the lifeblood to ranchers in the area.

"This is bad, even by Texas standards," said C.J. Norvell, a spokeswoman for the Texas Forest Service.

The weather has been extremely dry and windy — prime conditions for wildfires.

"Everything is working against us," Norvell said. "The situation really is volatile."

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

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