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Wildfires claim a second life in Texas

By the CNN Wire Staff
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: "It will be life before the fire and life after the fire, it's that big a deal"
  • "We've been given a break in the weather," Texas official says
  • Elias Jaquez, 49, is killed trying to fight a brush fire, becoming the second fatality
  • More than a million acres have burned in Texas since April 6

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Dallas (CNN) -- Wildfires that have raged 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 last 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 since April 6.

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RELATED TOPICS
  • Wildfires
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  • Dallas (Texas)

Dry, windy conditions remained in parts of Texas on Thursday, though in some areas, cooler temperatures and rain aided firefighters.

"We've been given a break in the weather," said April Saginor, spokeswoman for the Texas Forest Service. "Humidity is up and temperatures are down."

CNN meteorologist Sean Morris said thunderstorms are expected in the region this weekend, but they will drop little rain and the lightning could spark further wildfires.

West Texas averages nearly 15 inches of rain a year, according to David Hennig, a meteorologist in Midland, Texas. Over the past six months, just 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.

Palo Pinto County Sheriff Ira Mercer predicted the fires will long be remembered. "This is an event that's going to mark time in our county's history," he said. "It's something that's going to change forever the looks and the community itself. It will be life before the fire and life after the fire, it's that big a deal."

On Thursday, Gov. Rick Perry declared Friday through Sunday as Days of Prayer for Rain.

He urged "Texans of all faiths and religious traditions" to pray for "an end to this ongoing drought and these devastating wildfires," as well as the safety of firefighters, said a news release from his office.

The tinder-dry landscape has provided no shortage of fuel: On Thursday, the Texas Forest Service responded to seven new fires across 159 acres; Wednesday's four new fires covered more than 1,000 acres; Tuesday;s 10 new fires totaled 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 1,900 firefighters from 36 states. That figure does not include volunteer fire department responders.

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 from the fire. Three suffered smoke inhalation. Jaquez was unable to get away and was burned.

He was taken to a burn unit in Lubbock, Texas, but died Wednesday, leaving a wife and four daughters.

Flags were flown at half-staff, Schmidt-Witcher said.

CNNRadio's Thomas Andres and CNN's Dave Alsup contributed to this report.

 
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