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21 Texas wildfires at least 50% contained, fire official says

By the CNN Wire Staff
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Wildfires tear through West Texas
  • NEW: All 21 wildfires are at least 50% contained, Mark Stanford says
  • NEW: A fire in Midland is blamed on a vehicle tire that blew, he says
  • More than 136,000 acres have burned in 71 fires in Texas, the state forest service says
  • 78 homes have been reported destroyed

For more news visit CNN affiliate KCBD.

(CNN) -- Texas firefighters were making significant progress Tuesday against wildfires that have consumed at least 78 homes and, at their peak, were burning the length of a football field every minute.

Sustained winds of 40 mph, gusting to 60, combined with 2% relative humidity in some areas to cause the grass fire conflagration Sunday, said Mark Stanford, chief of fire operations for the Texas Forest Service.

On Tuesday, however, firefighters had all 21 remaining fires at least 50 percent contained, Stanford told CNN Radio.

Crews want to have them fully contained by Thursday, he said.

"Friday will be another bad day for us," Stanford said. "Not as bad as Sunday, but it will be a very high fire danger day across that region. So we want to make sure that we've freed up all of our fire resources so that they can respond to new starts we may have."

As of Tuesday, 78 homes had been reported destroyed, and that number is expected to increase as teams fan out to inspect damages, Stanford said. None of the fires were threatening communities.

Smoke from one fire caused an accident that killed a 5-year-old child Sunday on Interstate 20.

Officials believe many of the fires were started by power lines that fell from high winds. Officials are urging citizens to be very cautious with their outdoor activities on fire danger days.

One fire was caused by an individual grinding on metal pipe, Stanford said. A blaze in Midland was caused when a vehicle tire blew and the tire rim created sparks.

Since Sunday, forestry officials, who were called in to assist local fire departments, have responded to 71 fires covering 136,699 acres, the Texas Forest Service said on its website. Most of the fires were across the Texas Panhandle.

The fires occurred in an area of about 45,000 square miles, the size of Kentucky, Stanford said.

Two of the biggest active fires were in Randall County, where 26 homes were lost, and Potter County, where 29 homes were lost. Those fires were 80% and 25% contained, respectively. Both were expected to be completely contained by day's end, Stanford said.

Potter County Sheriff Brian Thomas said a 61,000-acre fire in his county was ignited when a man cut pipe with a metal grinder in high wind Sunday. Austin Lynn Stephens, 52, was arrested and charged with criminal trespass because he was on private property when he was using the grinder.

Firefighters battled blazes in a dozen other counties, including a 35,000-acre fire in Matador West in Motley County, and a 21,000-acre fire in Andrews County, officials said Monday. They also fought fires in the counties of Haskell, Tom Green, Randall, Howard, Midland, Scurry, Motley, Crockett, Mitchell and Eastland.

One wildfire destroyed a dog kennel near Amarillo, Capt. Wes Hall of the Amarillo Fire Department said. Authorities were trying to account Monday for the animals missing or dead after the fire tore through the Willow Creek Kennel. Firefighters were able to open cages to free at least some of the dogs before the flames overtook the facility.

As many as 27 homes were destroyed in the area and "the fire was on the kennel in a matter of minutes," employee Chance Smith said, adding he did not have an exact number of dogs lost.

In the community of Matador, north of Lubbock, families could do nothing but watch as their homes burned to the ground.

Juan and Rosemary Segovia hadn't been gone 20 minutes when they returned to a panic-stricken neighborhood and found they had lost everything they owned.

"To know everything you worked so hard for, it's all gone," a tearful Juan Segovia told CNN affiliate KCBD. He and his wife stared in disbelief at the blaze.

The family of seven is without a home, but grateful for what was not lost.

"I'm glad our family wasn't home when it happened," Rosemary Segovia said before falling into her husband's arms. "That's all I care about is I have my family."

CNN's Dave Alsup, Mariano Castillo and Antoinette Campbell and CNN Radio's Barbara Hall contributed to this report.