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Emergency Crews Head West To Battle Wildfires

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Emergency crews fight wildfire flames. (credit: Donald Miralle/Getty Images)

Emergency crews fight wildfire flames. (credit: Donald Miralle/Getty Images)

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POSSUM KINGDOM LAKE (CBSDFW.COM/AP) - Evacuation orders are in place just west of Fort Worth, where wildfires continue to rage out of control.

The fires are burning in Stephens County and Palo Pinto County, near Possum Kingdom Lake. Both the towns of Strawn and Caddo were evacuated over the weekend, and at least 31 homes have been destroyed in that blaze.

About half a dozen separate fires are burning in West Texas. Over the past week, the fires have scorched more than 700,000 acres of land – about the size of Rhode Island – as winds fanned the flames.

These fires are being fueled by drought-stricken prairies and dry thickets. Not even roadways or firebreaks have been able to stop the flames. On Monday, at least 18 homes and two churches near the lake went up in flames.

About 200 firefighters from 20 departments were fighting those fires.

“There were 70 and 80 foot flames yesterday running through all the areas,” said Travis Whitewood, a firefighter from North Texas Fire.

Four separate fires have now burned together into one massive blaze.

“It’s moving about 30 miles an hour,” said Dub Gulliam, a spokesman with the Texas Department of Public Safety. “It’s covering several miles in several minutes.”

In some cases, the flames can be spotted from as far as five miles away. Some CBS 11 News viewers in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metro Area were able to spot the smoke pouring into the sky from as many as 90 miles away. The Caddo fire is estimated to cover 2,200 acres. The fire near Strawn is about 1,000 acres.

As firefighters work tirelessly to contain the fire, many volunteer fire departments do not have the resources to put it out.

“We’re running short of tanks with water, helicopters are having a hard time finding water,” said Roscoe Sparks, with the Strawn VFD. “We’re in a drought, there is just not much water.”

Wind speeds dropped Saturday, allowing firefighters to make some headway in battling the blazes. But 30 mph gusts returned on Sunday, and high winds are expected to continue throughout the week ahead. This will make conditions even more harsh for those on the frontlines against the flames.

Firefighters from Frisco, Plano, Celina, Cash and Lucas left their  departments Monday morning to head to the West Texas town of Merkel, which has been serving as a command post for the wildfire battle. The North Texas emergency officials will be assigned to various parts of the fire from the Merkel station.

Conditions in West Texas are dangerous, even for those who are taking on the fires. A firefighter was killed on Friday while battling flames between Fort Worth and Abilene.

Eastland fireman Greg Simmons, 50, was in a fire truck that became surrounded by flames. He fled, and the volunteer was hit by a vehicle while trying to escape. Officials are unsure if he was struck by a civilian automobile or a fire truck.  Simmons is survived by his wife and two daughters.

West Texas homeowners who have been forced to flee are thankful for whatever help they can get during this worrisome time. Gov. Rick Perry sent a letter to President Barack Obama asking that he issue a Major Disaster Declaration for the state.

According to Perry, 252 Texas counties are “presently threatened or impacted by wildfires.” The letter explains that 7,807 fires have torn through more than 1.5 million acres of land, and destroyed 244 homes, in recent weeks.

“Rescue efforts have saved 8,514 threatened homes,” the letter adds.

The declaration would allow the state to receive federal money and aid for battling the fires and to help protect residents.

Some evacuated residents have returned to the area. Not to check on their homes, though, but to check on the firefighters who are trying to protect them. After more than five days of fighting the fire, exhausted crews are running out of some much-needed items.

“There are a lot of guys out here running out of food, supplies, water,” Whitewood said

As the fast-moving fire continues to spread, it’s spreading thin the resources and manpower need to contain it.

“Praying for rain,” Whitewood said, “that’s about the only thing that’s going to stop it right now.”

The Associated Press Contributed to this report.

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