Firefighters battle Texas wildfire with hand tools

LUBBOCK, Texas Sat Apr 30, 2011 7:39pm EDT

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LUBBOCK, Texas (Reuters) - Federal firefighters toiled with hand tools in rugged West Texas terrain to cut off a fast moving fire that had consumed 150,000 acres, authorities said on Saturday.

About 80 firefighters battled a blaze raging 200 miles west of San Antonio, using specialized hand tools to cut fire breaks across remote brushland, Texas Forest Service spokesman Dwight Dold said.

The steep, rocky slopes covered with sage and juniper made it difficult to tackle the blaze, which had so far torched a barn and a hunter's camp but spared homes, Dold said.

"It's a real tough fuel to fight and getting to it is just almost impossible with anything other than hand crews," he added.

Four teams from western states were hacking, digging and burning away dry grass and brush, robbing the wildfire of tinder to slow its advance, Dold said.

"When they get done, it will look like about a two-foot wide walking trail down to bare soil," he added.

Wildfires fanned by high winds in extreme drought conditions have devoured more than 2.1 million acres and 1,100 structures in Texas this year, killing two firefighters.

Fire conditions remained critical across much of West Texas on Saturday.

A 310,000-acre fire that destroyed 41 homes as it raced through the small town of Fort Davis earlier this month still continued to burn over the weekend.

Fire crews elsewhere in the state were helped by a new storm front that raised moisture levels, eased winds and shifted their direction.

"A lot of small fires are popping up here and then, but the volunteer fire departments in the area were responding," service spokeswoman Debby Bryars said. "If they're anything, they're small and they're able to contain them."

Along the Arizona-Mexico border, meanwhile, crews worked on Saturday to try and contain a blaze that had torched 23,000 acres, and slightly injured two firefighters.

(Corrects weather reference, paragraph 10)

(Editing by Tim Gaynor and Greg McCune)

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