POSSUM KINGDOM LAKE (AP) – Their homes have been reduced to a gray heap of ashes, and acres of trees turned into blackened sticks. Yet many who live in a lakeside community ravaged by a massive Texas wildfire — whether in a million-dollar mansion, a quaint lake house or a simple fishing cabin — say they hope to rebuild and get back to watching the wildlife and whiling away the hours with loved ones.
“Possum Kingdom is a state of mind,” said Carolyn Bennis, whose dream house was destroyed in the fire that has charred nearly 150 square miles in three North Texas counties. “It’s not necessarily a place. It’s just your heart and you just get addicted to it.”
Firefighters have contained about a fourth of the blaze, but it’s unclear when residents will be allowed to return to the Possum Kingdom Lake area to rebuild or move back in, Palo Pinto County Sheriff Ira Mercer said Thursday. Since starting a week ago near the lake about 70 miles west of Fort Worth, the fire has destroyed about 160 of the community’s 3,000 homes — mostly people who lived there on weekends or in the summer.
“It will be years before this is back to what it used to be,” Mercer said, standing near a blackened field where the smell of smoke was thick and wind gusts blew ashes in the air.
The blaze is one of several burning in the drought-stricken state, including two massive wildfires in West Texas. Since Jan. 1, wildfires have scorched more than 1.4 million acres in the state and led to the deaths of two firefighters.
Bennis’ upscale three-bedroom lake house was atop a cliff overlooking Hell’s Gate Cove at Possum Kingdom Lake, formed some 70 years ago by damming the Brazos River. Just last month she and her husband sold their home in Cleburne and moved their belongings and family heirlooms into the lake house, deciding to live there full time, although they own a small condominium in downtown Fort Worth.
She and her husband would watch deer nibble outside the kitchen window, and they’d sit on the deck with a cup of coffee or glass of wine as the migrating pelicans and ducks flew overhead and children splashed in the crystal clear water below. They had a big Easter weekend planned, and her 4-year-old grandson cried when he found out about the fire because he feared he wouldn’t be able to hunt eggs. Next year, she told him. Bennis and her husband will rebuild.
“Possum Kingdom is just a big deal for us,” she said. “It’s not just our house. It’s where our heart is.”
In that area, one home was destroyed except for three scorched walls left standing — and its garage completely untouched by the flames. Next door, a stone fireplace was the only thing that survived the blaze. On another cliff across the cove, a fireplace towered over the heap that remained of the burned-out home, while an upscale house next door was not damaged. Some docks and boats in the lake below showed no signs of the fire.
In some places, the blaze blackened fields down to the soil and charred trees, burning away even their branches. In others, trees and shrubs were untouched and even a few wildflowers grew on the roadside.
Also near Hell’s Gate Cove, the fire destroyed John McPherson’s fishing cabin — a 1960s cabin he finally bought in December after leasing it for about four years, he said. McPherson, who lives in Abilene, said it had the same great views as nearby mansions “without the million dollar price tag.” Because he had no insurance, all he has left is eight-tenths of an acre, a dock and the scorched and warped metal roof he put on just last summer.
The mid-week cooler temperatures and high humidity that helped North Texas firefighters were expected to remain through the weekend. But forecasters said the hot, windy conditions dreaded by fire officials were expected to return Monday.
Gov. Rick Perry has proclaimed a three-day period, from Friday to Sunday, as Days of Prayer for Rain in the state.
Meanwhile, two massive West Texas fires are 75 percent contained — a 160,000-acre blaze in Coke County near San Angelo and a 200,000-acre fire burning for two weeks in Jeff Davis County, fire officials said Thursday.
Bridget Litten, a spokeswoman with the federal firefighting management team called in to help with those blazes, said a storm system that brought relief with cooler temperatures also caused problems when lightning started a few small fires. But crews were prepared, she said.
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