- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 4, 2006

HOT SPRINGS, Ark. (AP) — Smoke from a 110-acre wildfire shrouded a mountain overlooking Hot Springs’ famed Bathhouse Row yesterday while firefighters fought to keep the fire from spreading into the city’s historic district.

Flames reached the back yards of homes on the western side of Hot Springs, which has endured drought for much of the past year. About 100 firefighters were on the scene, and U.S. Forest Service aircraft made repeated passes to drop water to help contain the blaze.

Residents near the park voluntarily left their homes after the fire broke out about 1 a.m. yesterday. Officials initially suspected an electrical station transformer exploded to start the blaze, but they later backed off the assertion and said the fire’s cause was under investigation.

The blaze was about 70 percent contained at midday yesterday.

The fire was burning on West Mountain, a part of the Hot Springs National Park. Its famed waters, at 143 degrees Fahrenheit, first drew Native Americans, then 19th-century tourists seeking cures for their ailments. For a time, gangsters had hangouts in the city.

Tourists tried to go about their fun on Bathhouse Row, in a narrow valley beneath West Mountain.

Patricia Epperhart, a Spanish teacher at nearby Arkadelphia High School, took 18 teenagers along Bathhouse Row during a field trip to several art galleries, where the students were to discuss artwork in their adopted tongue.

“We saw it coming in,” Miss Epperhart said. “It’s sad though. We need rain really bad in this area.”

A number of homes abut parkland, and residents briefly sensed danger.

“I smelled smoke and felt heat and thought I had left the heater up,” said Terry Wallace, who added, “my back yard is the park.”

Mr. Wallace, the announcer at the Oaklawn Park thoroughbred race track, said he emptied his home of mementoes — family pictures and things of value — and fled in his car.

“I went outside and took a look, and I could see it on top of the mountain,” he said.

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