Texas county official says "stupid" feds sparked fire

SAN ANTONIO Fri May 13, 2011 6:22pm EDT

SAN ANTONIO (Reuters) - The fight between Texas and Washington, D.C., over wildfires in the Lone Star State just got nastier.

A county official in the Texas Panhandle is now blaming a federal agency for starting one of the fires through carelessness.

Tom Edwards, the county attorney in rural Motley County east of Lubbock, said on Friday that the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and Explosives was responsible on Tuesday for sparking a fire that consumed 150 acres.

"You can quote me on it: That bunch has a real corner on stupid," Edwards told Reuters.

Tom Crowley, a spokesman with the federal agency, said bureau officials were assisting four local bomb squads -- at their request -- to destroy some explosives. Firefighters were on hand, he said. The wind picked up, but the explosives were too dangerous to move, so the officials went ahead and destroyed the explosives.

"Unfortunately, a fragment ignited some grass," Crowley said. "As far as the community, we're working with them to let them know how to go about making a claim with the government."

Texas Governor Rick Perry has publicly criticized the Federal Emergency Management Agency for declining the state's request for a major disaster declaration for wildfires that have scorched some 2.5 million acres since November.

FEMA has said it has awarded fire management grants to Texas but that the agency determined there was not a need for additional support.

"We've got the federal government that has refused to provide assistance to the state on the request of Governor Perry because of all our statewide fires, and then in waltzes federal agents and they start a fire," Edwards said.

"We had high winds, we're under a burn ban because of extensive prairie fires, brush fires, and in they rolled with the idea of blowing up things."

Crowley said that the federal bureau and the local bomb squads were working as a team.

Fires covering some 203,000 acres were still burning as of Friday, according to the Texas Forest Service. The state remains dangerously dry, with 47 percent of Texas listed as in "exceptional drought" by the U.S. Drought Monitor.

This week's episode shows how dangerous the conditions are, said Perry spokeswoman Lucy Nashed.

"It underscores why we need help," she said. "It's still a touch and go situation out there with drought and winds."

(Additional reporting by Corrie MacLaggan; Editing by Jerry Norton)

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