- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 28, 2005

CROSS PLAINS (AP) — More than 100 homes across wildfire-stricken Texas and Oklahoma lay in ruins yesterday and at least five persons were dead, including two elderly women trapped in their homes by the flames.

The hardest-hit community during the Tuesday blazes was Cross Plains, a West Texas ranching and oil-and-gas town of 1,000 people about 150 miles from Dallas. Cross Plains lost about 50 homes and a church after the flames raced through grass dried out by the region’s worst drought in 50 years.

Two elderly women there were killed after being trapped in their homes, said Sparky Dean, a spokesman for the Department of Public Safety.

Another woman died in Cooke County, near the Oklahoma line, after she apparently fell while helping her husband pour water on the grass around their house, said Mike Murphree, a division chief for the Gainesville Fire Department. He did not know how she died.

No information was available on the fourth death in Texas. A fifth person was killed in Yeager, Okla., where fire destroyed eight homes.

“We had a tornado here years ago, and we thought that was devastating. This lasted for hours and hours,” said Patricia Cook, a special-education aide whose home was saved by her 18-year-old son, J.D., and a friend. They saw the flames approaching the house from across a field and ran to save it.

“The fire was literally nipping at their heels,” she said. “He just picked up the hose and started watering things down.”

Elsewhere on her block, the front brick wall and part of a side wall were all that was left standing of the First United Methodist Church. The steeple lay on the ground. Ten homes on her street were reduced to charcoal.

The fire spared a town landmark, the nearly century-old house — now a museum — of Robert E. Howard, author of the “Conan the Barbarian” books.

The grass fires destroyed more than 100 buildings across Texas, including 78 homes, said the state emergency management agency. About 50 homes have been destroyed in Oklahoma, authorities said.

Wind gusting to 40 mph drove the flames across nearly 20,000 acres in the two states. At least 73 blazes were reported in Texas in two days, and dozens broke out in Oklahoma.

Fires were still smoldering yesterday in four Texas counties. One fire broke out yesterday in an isolated area of eastern Oklahoma but was quickly contained.

Severe drought set the stage for the fires, which authorities think were started mostly by people shooting off fireworks, tossing cigarettes or burning trash despite bans imposed because of the drought. A fallen power line apparently started one Oklahoma blaze.

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