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Texas dousing fire hot spots; rain expected

/ Source: The Associated Press

Firefighters were extinguishing hot spots early Friday in wildfires that have charred the Texas Panhandle, and Gov. Rick Perry called for immediate federal assistance.

“The losses to the state have been staggering,” Perry said Thursday after taking an aerial tour of the area.

Since Sunday, the fires have consumed 840,000 acres, killed at least 11 people and forced thousands to evacuate their homes. At least 10,000 cattle and horses have died in the blazes.

The fires finally began to ease, aided by shifting winds. In Canadian, a 30-hour stand by more than 150 firefighters paid off. The firefighters moved brush, dug trenches and lined up three dozen fire trucks, controlling the blaze to spare the 80-resident town of Lipscomb.

Departments came from as far away as Midland and the Dallas-Fort Worth area to help, bringing the fire chief to tears.

“You try to do everything you can to stop it, because there’s so many people who’ve already lost so much all across the area,” said Canadian Fire Chief Scott Brewster, 36.

The National Weather Service said rain could soak the drought-stricken region this weekend and bring more relief.

Texas Forest Service spokeswoman Jan Fulkerson said firefighters were putting out hot spots Friday in the three major Panhandle blazes, including the one near Canadian. A 350,000-acre fire near Interstate 40 was 80 percent contained, and the 40,000-acre fire near Childress was 95 percent contained, she said.

Perry said he spoke to President Bush on Thursday morning. But he said he was concerned, because the federal government made “very substantial promises” about reimbursements for help the state provided after Hurricane Katrina but “has not lived up to its word.”

He planned to update a request for aid he first filed in December when wildfires first broke out. Statewide, fires have consumed almost 5 million acres and nearly 400 homes during the past three months, Perry said.

Perry said he expects state legislators in the 2007 session to work together to address more funding for the state’s 1,800 volunteer fire departments, who “a lot of times have to go hand to mouth to get the equipment and get the training” they need.