Rain helps in battle against East Texas Wildfires

AddThis

A large column of smoke from wildfires burning in Trinity, Polk and Jasper counties can be seen in the western sky Saturday, June 18, 2011, in Lufkin, Texas. (The Lufkin Daily News, Joel Andrews)

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

HOUSTON — Crews battling rare East Texas wildfires got some relief Wednesday when rain blanketed the region where blazes have forced hundreds of people to evacuate their homes and blackened tens of thousands of acres.

There's a "pretty good downpour right now," Jason Curry, a spokesman for the federal incident management team coordinating firefighting efforts, told The Associated Press.

Curry said he was just a couple of miles from the edge of a blaze in Trinity and Polk counties that has been 60 percent contained after burning more than 20,000 acres. The inch or so of rain that has fallen since Tuesday helped control the fire, Curry said.

Another wildfire in nearby Grimes County, 60 miles northwest of Houston, led to the evacuation of about 1,800 homes and businesses Monday night, and Curry said the area must remain vacated because the fire there has not been contained.

"They have quite a bit of work to do," Curry said of the firefighters in Grimes County, where about 30 structures have burned in blazes covering about 5,300 acres. "The rain has helped them out."

The National Weather Service said more thunderstorms are possible through Thursday in parts of southeast Texas.

"In terms of fire behavior, the weather has done a lot," Curry said, although the fire danger continues.

"The area is smoldering and burning in areas where the vegetation has kept the rain off the ground. Those areas are still dry and they'll burn. As soon as the weather heats up and this rain moves out, the fire activity will pick up," he said.

Wildfires that burned nearly 4,200 acres in Jasper have been contained, he said.

In South Texas, a body was discovered in the area of a Brooks County brush fire that has burned about 35,000 acres in four days, the sheriff's office said. The Texas Forest Service said the fire is 50 percent contained.

The body, believed to be that of an undocumented immigrant, was found in a burned area but may have been someone who died from heat exhaustion before the fire, said Nora Salinas, an administrative assistant for the Brooks County sheriff. Salinas told the Corpus Christi Caller-Times that an autopsy had been ordered.

Outdoor burn bans were in effect Wednesday in 227 of the state's 254 counties, according to the Texas Forest Service.