- Associated Press - Tuesday, April 19, 2011

MINERAL WELLS, Texas | A Texas forestry official said Tuesday it’s unlikely that the state’s raging wildfires will make it far enough east to threaten the heavily populated Fort Worth area, even as state officials reported that the fires have blackened an area twice as big as previously estimated and strong wind gusts and hot temperatures would make it tougher to fight the blaze.

Texas Forest Service spokesman Marq Webb said fire crews would be able to establish “battle lines” between the blaze and the major city 70 miles to the west. The fire has scorched nearly 150,000 acres in the Possum Kingdom Lake area.

A weekend fire destroyed homes in Austin, the state capital.

The fire is the fifth in Texas to have burned at least 100,000 acres in the past two weeks. Most of the state is in extreme drought, and wildfires in the past week alone have burned more than 1,000 square miles of parched Texas ranchland - an area that combined would be the size of Rhode Island.

The weather was expected to complicate matters in North Texas, with temperatures forecast in the mid-90s and wind gusts of up to 35 mph. There was a chance of evening thunderstorms.

“Gusty winds; it’s going to make any fire-suppression efforts problematic,” Mr. Webb said Tuesday. “The public just needs to be mindful that any use of outdoor fire should not be considered.”

Trooper Gary Rozzell of the Texas Department of Public Safety said heat from the flames of fires near Possum Kingdom on the Brazos River grew so intense Monday that cinders were sent high into the atmosphere. There they became icy and fell to the ground in a process called “ice-capping,” he said.

“They tell me it’s like a roof falling in,” he said.

The fires drove residents from their homes along the shore of the North Texas lake, with at least 18 homes and two churches burned. The flames reached a storage building containing fireworks on the reservoir’s western shore, lighting up the night but causing no injuries, Palo Pinto County Judge David Nicklas said.

In West Texas, the rugged, hilly terrain north of San Angelo was complicating efforts to bring the Wildcat Fire in Coke County under control. However, firefighters gained ground on it Monday after using “burnouts” on Sunday to clear out fuel needed by the advancing flames, according to Texas Forest Service spokesman Oscar Mestas. He said some scattered rural areas were evacuated as a precaution, but no homes were reported destroyed by the 104,000-acre fire.

Two people who apparently wanted to see the fires from the air died when their single-engine biplane crashed near San Angelo, Federal Aviation Administration spokesman Lynn Lunsford said Monday.

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