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Forecast is a mixed bag for Texas firefighters

By the CNN Wire Staff
  • NEW: People allowed to survey damage in hard-hit area
  • Return to critical fire weather forecast for next week, Forest Service says
  • Forecaster: Higher humidity could help fight against wildfires
  • But high winds could counteract the advantage, meteorologist says

Dallas (CNN) -- Hundreds of firefighters from across the United States took advantage of more favorable weather conditions Friday as they continued to battle flames that have burned across more than 1.4 million acres of a fire-weary state whose governor has asked residents to pray for rain and a "restoration of our normal way of life."

But while higher humidity Friday helped slow the Texas fires' advance, wind gusts -- up to 25 miles per hour -- could fan the flames over the weekend, said Jennifer Dunn, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Fort Worth.

And critical fire weather is predicted again for Monday and Tuesday, the Texas Forest Service said.

The service reported 10 new fires Thursday, despite cooler temperatures and rain in some parts of the state. Local fire departments had no requests for assistance Friday.

The PK Complex of fires burning west of Fort Worth continues to threaten hundreds of homes around the Possum Kingdom Lake, Caddo, Strawn, and Bunger communities, where 166 homes and two churches have been destroyed, the Forest Service said Friday. The fires are 25% contained, the agency said.

The largest fire, the 202,756-acre Rockhouse fire near Fort Davis, was 75% contained as of Friday evening, the Forest Service said. "Safety of the public and firefighters is our number one concern as this fire travels down into Aguja Canyon," officials said.

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The other remaining large fire, the 159,308-acre Wildcat fire north of San Angelo, also was 75% contained as of late Friday.

Residents of the Possum Kingdom Lake area -- hoping to briefly return to their homes to check on structures and gather belongings -- sat at a roadblock near Brad, Texas, Friday afternoon after authorities said flare-ups were making it too dangerous to let residents of some areas return. At one point, more than 200 cars were lined up, but they were allowed in later to survey damage before they had to come back out.

Cooler temperatures, higher humidity and rain helped firefighters make some advances Thursday and Friday, but thunderstorms in the forecast for the weekend could actually do more harm than good.

Thunderstorms bring the threat of lightning, which can ignite new fires, Dunn said. They also may not bring enough rain to quench the dry ground and vegetation in Texas, which is undergoing a historic drought.

"If the storms are slow-moving and drop a lot of rain in some areas that would be beneficial," Dunn said. "But, if we're talking about scattered or isolated storms that are moving at a pretty good clip, they're not going to provide much help in this case."

West Texas averages nearly 15 inches of rain a year, according to David Hennig, a meteorologist in Midland. 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.

Friday marked the first day of a "Days of Prayer for Rain" proclamation issued by Gov. Rick Perry.

Perry's resolution urges "Texans of all faiths and religious traditions" to pray for "an end to this ongoing drought and these devastating wildfires."

Two firefighters have died since the latest outbreaks began, with numerous others injured, state officials said.

CNN's Matt Cherry and Patrick Oppmann contributed to this report.