Homes gone, Possum Kingdom residents take stock

Posted Wednesday, Sep. 07, 2011  comments  Print Reprints

Texas wildfires

Here are tips from the Tarrant County Office of Emergency Management on how to prevent and stay safe from wildfires.

Avoid creating sparks. Don't park vehicles in tall, dry grass. They can be ignited by hot catalytic converters. Crush cigarettes in an ashtray and make sure they are completely out. Be cautious about outdoor activities that might cause sparks or fires. Sparks can easily escape from burning trash. Avoid using welding or grinding equipment near dry weeds and grass.

See smoke, turn around. Wind-driven wildfire moves fast. If you see thick smoke across a highway, do not drive into it. Slow down. Prepare to stop and turn around. Activate your hazard lights to warn vehicles behind you. Check for oncoming traffic. Make sure you can turn around safely.

Stay alert when traveling. Check fire and weather conditions before you get on the road. Monitor radio broadcasts while traveling. In areas where there may be wildfires, watch for highway signs, traffic control personnel and firefighters. Slow down and prepare to stop when they signal you to do so.

Protect your home. Clear brush and grass away from your home and outbuildings. Clear brush from between trees. Prune lower branches. Make sure areas under utility lines are clear of brush, tall grass and trees so utility service will continue. Create a firebreak by clearing vegetation from areas between your house and nearby fields or wildland areas.

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When the wildfires raged through the Possum Kingdom Lake subdivision known as The Cliffs last week, Larry Anderson barely escaped with his life.

Anderson, who retired from the Dallas Fire Department as a deputy chief, raced the subdivision's lone firetruck through a wall of flames and survived.

Yet he and his wife, Pam, didn't get a firsthand look at the rubble of their house until Sunday. They were one of the 39 Possum Kingdom property owners to lose their home in the 101 Ranch Fire.

"There's a lot of devastation out there," Anderson said Tuesday. "There's 200-year-old trees gone. It's not a pretty sight."

With the winds slowing down, it appeared that the 6,555-acre fire was 85 percent contained, April Phillips, a Forest Service spokeswoman, said at 9 p.m. Tuesday.

"It's looking a lot better," Palo Pinto County Sheriff Ira Mercer said Tuesday. "We actually released some firefighters to go fight the Bastrop fire."

The Andersons have temporarily resettled in a west Fort Worth corporate apartment. The next several days will be filled with return trips to the lake to meet insurance adjusters for their home and their truck. But Larry Anderson said they have set no timetable to rebuild.

"The only decision we've made is not to make a quick decision," Anderson said. "The best thing was, it was unrecognizable. It was just total destruction, total rubble."

He said he isn't sure whether his neighbors who lost homes in The Cliffs will come back.

"There's no consensus," Anderson said. "Nobody has told me what they're going to do. I think a lot of people are like us, just saying, 'Let's wait and see what happens.' There are a lot of unanswered questions about how this will impact property values and salability."

Marsha Bettis, a real estate agent with Pondera Properties, said she has seen a similar response in previous fires around the lake.

"They go through a mourning period," Bettis said. "We just advise them not to make any decision for six months. But there are some who jump right back in and say they don't want to live anywhere else and start rebuilding."

Bill Hanna, 817-390-7698

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