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Winds, fire keep Texas town on edge

Fire officials kept watch Tuesday on a wildfire threatening this town of 1,500 people, but evacuated residents were allowed to return.
Texas Wildfires
A Blackhawk helicopter contracted through the Texas Forest Service attacks a grass fire near Robert Lee, Texas, on Tuesday.Patrick Dove / San Angelo Standard-Times via AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

Fire officials kept watch Tuesday on a wildfire threatening this town of 1,500 people, but evacuated residents were allowed to return.

Wildfires across the state, mostly in West Texas, since Monday have charred nearly 390 square miles — about 250,000 acres. The largest was a 342-square-mile blaze that has burned over three counties, said Anne Jeffery, an information officer for the Texas Forest Service.

Officials were monitoring a roughly 30-square-mile fire that threatened Robert Lee, about 250 miles southwest of Dallas. While residents were allowed to return, schools remained closed Tuesday. They were expected to reopen Wednesday.

"It's still hot here," said Robert Lee Superintendent Aaron Hood, who sent his wife and two children to nearby San Angelo overnight while he assisted in evacuations. "You can still smell the smoke and smell the fire. If the high winds get up again, we just have to be ready."

He said some houses burned in the smaller communities of Silver and Edith near the E.V. Spence Reservoir.

On Tuesday, fires were stoked by winds up to 50 mph.

As of Tuesday afternoon, the latest outbreak of wildfires had threatened more than 570 structures, including about 200 in Odessa on Monday. Seven structures were destroyed, Jeffery said.

Four firefighters were injured in Archer County, about 200 miles northwest of Robert Lee, when two fire trucks collided head on after one swerved around a car that pulled out into the road, said Becky Pursur, the county's emergency management coordinator. Jeffery said two firefighters in West Texas were treated for smoke inhalation Monday.

Joe Harris, the program leader for fire weather at the National Weather Service in Fort Worth, said the state is caught in a pattern that pulls in dry, warm air. He said it was a trend that probably will last until mid-March.

"It's a very nasty situation for the people close to these fires," he said.

Wildfires have burned about 468 square miles and destroyed at least 60 homes and other structures in the past month. Two years ago, numerous outbreaks scorched 3,515 square miles statewide and killed 20 people.

In southeastern New Mexico, firefighters were monitoring the remnants of a grass fire that burned about 62 square miles and threatened about 100 homes and businesses west of Hobbs. The fire was contained late Monday.