Monday, March 13, 2006
'They can smell the danger'
We landed in the Texas panhandle this morning to news that wildfires have scorched 650,000 acres here since Sunday.

To be honest, I've been having a hard time wrapping my head around that figure. It's just too massive to comprehend.

As we chased the fires this morning, we drove some 60 miles from Amarillo to Borger to Pampa to Miami -- the land was charred as far as the eye could see. And what we've seen is only a fraction of what has burned.

Which brings us to Miami. This is a town of 588 people along Highway 60. The wildfire has reached the northern ridge of this town and dozens of firefighters are battling the rugged terrain to keep the flames from rolling in.

High winds blow the smoke over the ridge into Miami. Residents might not be able to see the low-moving flames, but they can smell the danger. I was standing on top of the ridge watching the firefighters work and right behind me you could see the town where some residents have put sprinklers on their rooftops.

West Texas wildfires are fast-moving. I can't emphasize that enough, and you probably have to see a wildfire erupt to get a true sense of how quickly they can move. We saw flames rise from the smoldering ground twice in 15 minutes. Firefighters were able to smother them quickly because they were close by.

So for now, the town of Miami is safe. But the volunteer firefighters on patrol here aren't letting their guard down.
Posted By Ed Lavandera, CNN Correspondent: 6:26 PM ET
  25 Comments
A couple years ago, a massive fire swept over my town, and it could have been totally swallowed up. They're so quick moving, and if not for firefighters and other valenteers, I don't know what would have happened. I have nothing but the greatest respect for those trying to save homes, and I hope they can keep it under control.
Posted By Anonymous Molly, Coleville, CA : 6:50 PM ET
We live in Southern California and are no strangers to wildfires. Those who stand on the lines and fight these fires are just some of the bravest and dedicated people alive. They can't always alter nature's course during a fire, but their record is excellent in saving lives and property. We owe them much more than we can repay.
Posted By Anonymous Craig, Tustin, CA : 7:25 PM ET
Don't forget about those of us up North, the Midwest is having terrible storms and tornados.

It's scary what's happening with the Earth, makes me just want to go and pull the covers over my head.
Posted By Anonymous Courtney, Chagrin Falls, OH : 7:57 PM ET
It is hard to imagine the vastness and speed of this fire. Once while out painting watercolors in the landscape of eastern Colorado, the heat from my car ignited dry grass. In seconds I moved my car from above the flames, took off my shirt to smother the fire, then doused the black patch with water used for painting. It was an ugly moment. (Don't remember how my painting went that day.)
Posted By Anonymous AllyCatherine Bryan, Ohio : 8:02 PM ET
I have friends in Texas. All I can do is pray for the safety of all these people and for the brave firefighters that are working so hard.
This is very scary news!
Posted By Anonymous Christy in GA : 8:52 PM ET
I have lived in Amarillo Texas since January 1, 1990. Prior to that I lived 60 miles east of Amarillo in Clarendon for 26 years. Clarendon is about 45 miles South of Pampa and about 65 to 70 miles SE of Borger. You speak of Miami in your report. Miami is about 40 to 50 miles NNE of Clarendon.

In all my 40 + years of wild fires, tornadoes and other calamities dished out by various and assorted Texas Panhandle sources, this has certainly been one to remember. As of the writing of this comment, wild fires continue to burn and the resources are being stretched. Seven have died and many are homeless. Untold numbers of livestock (especially cattle) are laying dead on burnt pastures as there has been no escape for them. Many ranchers are financially devestated.

However we are even more concerned about the VOLUNTEER rural fire department's people that are now in area hospitals (one volunteer firefighter from Howardwick Texas located just North of Clarendon is in critical condition) and have no insurance or source of income while they recuperate from their volunteer help. It's definitely a tragedy for our area and especially for those who have felt the direct whammy from these fires.

Please pray for those who have experienced loss as your prayers may be all they have to go with the shirts on their backs. We need rain bad here so pray for that as well.

A voice from the Texas Panhandle.
Posted By Anonymous Rowdy, Amarillo TX : 9:31 PM ET
These fires are within 50 miles of my parents' home. I grew up in this area and love it so much. I am shocked to even think of this; we've never encountered anything like this before. My Mom said they can smell the smoke.
Posted By Anonymous Amy, Nashville, TN : 9:46 PM ET
I grew up in this area (Groom) and these homes are testimony of generations of really hard work. My heart goes out to those who are trying to save houses built by their great great grandparents. To live in West Texas has always been a challenge. But the people are the most resilient I will ever have the priviledge to know and love. May God protect you today.
Posted By Anonymous Becky, San Antonio, TX : 9:52 PM ET
Raging fires and terrible storms are powerful reminders that God is in control of this planet not us.
Posted By Anonymous Jennifer, Durham NC : 10:01 PM ET
The joys of living in West Texas. Nothing much we can do, just hope and pray they dont get too out of hand, and that we dont have to encounter one up close.
Posted By Anonymous Rita, Plainview, TX : 10:50 PM ET
North Texas has had very little rain this past few months, this dry condition contributes to the fire situation. There is not a lot of vegitation in the pan handle of Texas, but what is there is very dry right now, this has increased the fuel for the flames.
Posted By Anonymous Grandma - Sanger Texas : 11:25 PM ET
My family and I just moved to Texas from the Michigan. We have seen this on TV, but never have given it much thought...it has never really impacted our lives. But now we are 100 miles from the fires and all I can do is watch the news & hope for "faverable" winds & pray. Moral of the story...pay attention, you never know were life may take you (or a job for that matter). I just wish I would have paid more attention before, maybe I would know what to expect a ittle better if at all possible. For now we pray!
Posted By Anonymous Danielle McGinis, Texas : 11:30 PM ET
I've never been in a fire, and I hope I never will be. I feel so bad for all those people involved. What is going on with the weather today? Worse hurricanes, extreme droughts, fires, horrible tornadoes, mudslides, floods, wacky winters. It's all too much. I want to understand why.
Posted By Anonymous Mae Aldridge, Moberly, MO : 11:42 PM ET
Living in West Texas one becomes used to the winds. But Sunday, the winds were sustained at 55mph plus, and this was the driest we have ever been--this was bound to happen. The loss of human life, plus the thousands of livestock, native wildlife--people's homes and businesses will take a long time to count, much less turn into a monetary figure. For ranchers whose lives depend upon the prairie and the ranch lands--and their cattle--a lot are totally wiped out. Entire towns, tiny towns, towns that struggled as it is have lost their economic base. Thank goodness for the fast response of our firefighter, the forest service, and many men and women across the country who've come here to fight the fires and stop the destruction.

The week ahead will tough, the winds won't be as fierce but they will blow and the air will be as dry as ever--while our families, everyone's families either run from the fires or fight them.

Aerial footage of the destruction is blunt--much of the prairie, the wilderness of the caprock was blackened--but we are still here, a part of the land, but fighting it at the same time.
Posted By Anonymous Georgianna Newburg, Amarillo, Texas : 12:17 AM ET
This is one of those times when you wonder why EVERYONE anywhere near by, even within a thousand miles, wouldn't just drop everything and head there to help stop it. Just think how quickly things like this could be brought under control if everyone was free to chip in.
Posted By Anonymous Scott Rogers Toronto, Ontario : 9:25 AM ET
I grew up in Borger, TX...look down to the end of my street and you'll see cattle grazing. I worry about not seeing the cattle for a while. With that much acreage lost, the already ailing cattle and farming industry is in for a tough year.
Posted By Anonymous Kate, now in Denton, TX : 9:44 AM ET
Thanks for covering the TX panhandle fires. With the record draught around Amarillo, these fires are going to be tough to tackle.
Posted By Anonymous Lacy, NYC/Amarillo : 10:01 AM ET
I'm moving to Texas in less than 60 days. Living in Arizona - wild fires are nothing new to me. Neither are monsoons (which seem to have disappeared in the last decade). It's just a part of life and an inherit risk of the geography.

Likewise - Tornado Alley gets its name for the same reason. People in California have earthquakes, wild fires and occasional mud slides. On the East Coast it's hurricanes and blizzards - depending on how far North or South you go.

Yes - it is sad to see what happens to our homes and buildings when these events unleash themselves, but it's also not like we are unaware of the risks we run by living in these areas.

Three weeks ago I nearly lost all my possessions in an apartment fire that started in my neighbor's chimney! I smelled the danger too, and it was a risk I took living in an apartment. Give me mother nature over human ignorance any day.
Posted By Anonymous Kevin, Scottsdale, AZ : 10:58 AM ET
Texas really needs rain. The ground down here is so dry that it seems like the tiniest of sparks could be devestating. I can only hope and pray that those April Showers will actually come. Pray for us!
Posted By Anonymous Kara, Abilene Texas : 10:59 AM ET
I feel heartbroken for the people of texas, and in the midwest, and along the Gulf...and I'm angry that there are still people in power who insist that global climate change is a myth.

The science tells us it's probably too late to stop it, that it's actually accelerating faster than previously expected, but I pray anyway...
Posted By Anonymous Joe, Pittsboro, NC : 11:19 AM ET
I feel heartbroken for the people of Texas, and in the Midwest, and along the Gulf...and I'm angry that there are still people in power who insist that global climate change is a myth.

The science tells us it's probably too late to stop it, that it's actually happening faster than previously expected, but I pray anyway...
Posted By Anonymous Joe, Pittsboro, NC : 11:20 AM ET
Living in the Texas Panhandle all my life, I can tell you it is one of the most beautiful parts of this country. We are very forunate to have hard working, and very compassion people in this area. To see the fires and step out on my front porch and see the smoke billowing in just kills me.

Please pray for our Volunteer firefighters out fighting these fires. And I echo the gentleman above from this area, please pray for rain we need it bad.
Posted By Anonymous Reagan, Amarillo,Texas : 11:24 AM ET
May God bless and protect those selfless people known as VOLUNTEER FIREFIGHTERS.
As a firefighter from Montana, I understand what these Firefighters in Texas are going through. They are putting themselves in some of the most dangerous conditions out there. Why? Simple, To Protect others lives and property!
Everyone, please help them out. Prayers, definitely. Money, for sure. But, don't forget to thank them for what they are doing for you. That means a lot to their morale.
Remember most Volunteers are giving up their time, money and sometimes lives to help your community. Support them in any way you can think of.
Posted By Anonymous Paul, Roundup, Montana : 12:48 PM ET
For millions of years prairie fires have swept across the Great Plains. It is part of Mother Nature's way. The number 650,000 is insignificant when measured against the overall size of the Great Plains. These fires are a natural phenomenon and only become news because humans build structures where once nothing existed. The only "news" here is that anyone is paying attention. In a matter of weeks new, green grass will replace the burned landscape and life will continue as it has for eons. And also in a couple of weeks (or days) the news media will leave and the people will resume there coexistance with nature on the Great Plains.
Posted By Anonymous Kevin, Tampa Florida, born and raised in Kansas : 1:15 PM ET
I was born and raised in the panhandle(floydada,tx). I now live in Phoenix,AZ, but all my family still lives there. I have seen several footage of these fires. My question is why aren't there tractors plowing the fields ahead of the fires. You would think that as flat and open as everything is there, that plowing the fields ahead of the fire would at least slow it down. Just a suggestion.
Posted By Anonymous frank, phoenix,az : 1:17 PM ET
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