Second Firefighter Dies in Texas Wildfires

FiresDisasters and AccidentsWildfiresCNN (tv network)WeatherPoliticsTom Green

Dallas -- Wildfires raging through parts of Texas have killed a second firefighter.

Elias Jaquez, 49, died Wednesday, 11 days after getting trapped in a fire and suffering burns, Cactus City Manager Steve Schmidt-Witcher said Thursday.

"We're a very small, tight-knit community. Everybody knew Elias, knew his family," Schmidt-Witcher said. "It's having a definite impact."

Firefighter Greg Simmons died Friday trying to extinguish the East Sidwynicks fire in Eastland County.

Numerous firefighters have been injured, some seriously.

Thousands of firefighters have been battling the blazes that have scorched more than a million acres in Texas. And the weather is not cooperating -- warm, dry winds are blowing across the already bone-dry landscape.

West Texas averages nearly 15 inches of rain a year, according to David Hennig, a meteorologist in Midland, Texas. In the past six months, only 13-hundredths of an inch of rain have been recorded in that part of the state.

While October through March is typically the dry season, that amount of rainfall is far below what it should be, Hennig said.

Weather models show the possibility of more storms this weekend and perhaps next week, he said.

While the rain is needed, storms accompanied by lightning pose a fire risk, Hennig explained.

The tinder-dry landscape has provided no shortage of fuel: On Wednesday, emergency personnel responded to four new fires across more than 1,000 acres, according to the Texas Forest Service.

On Tuesday, they responded to 10 new fires, totaling more than 2,000 acres.

Since January 1, the Texas Forest Service said, it has responded to more than 800 fires that have damaged some 5,000 structures across 1.4 million acres.

The state has seen fires in 252 of its 254 counties since December 21, 2010.

In addition to in-state crews, the Texas Forest Service is directing the efforts of more than 1,800 firefighters from 36 other states.

Schmidt-Witcher with the city of Cactus said he has lived in Moore County for 16 years and never seen fires this bad.

Jaquez was among the personnel fighting a brush fire south of Dumas on April 9 when two fire trucks got stuck. The four firefighters abandoned their trucks and tried to run away from the fire. Three suffered smoke inhalation. Jaquez was unable to get away and was burned.

He was transported to a burn unit in Lubbock, Texas, but succumbed to his wounds Wednesday, leaving behind a wife and four daughters.

Flags were flown at half-staff to mark his death, Schmidt-Witcher said.

Jackie Fewell, who lives in Possum Kingdom west of Fort Worth, set up a blog to provide updates on the crisis since fire warnings first were extended to the 3,000-home lake community.

"We have been able to generate this incredible response," Fewell said, noting the site has served as a bridge between residents in need of help and those able to provide it.

"We get remarks from people all over needing help," she said. "If we put out a query to get 200 leather gloves to the area, we'll have those gloves within a few days."

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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