A fast-burning grass fire shut down Interstates 20 and 30 for hours Monday afternoon, one of a handful of fires that popped up when North Texas was ripe for burning.
The fire torched more than 1,000 acres as it danced along I-20 and I-30 in eastern Parker and western Tarrant counties, threatening homes in Willow Park and forcing widespread evacuations, including two elementary schools in the Aledo district.
The busy stretches of freeways were shut down for much of the afternoon, but as the thick smoke subsided, they reopened between 4:30 and 5 p.m.
“The fire is obviously not totally contained but we’re in a lot better shape than we were a few hours ago,” Parker County Judge Mark Riley said about 5:30 p.m. “The interstate is open and traffic is going in both directions.”
The National Weather Service had issued a red flag warning until 6 p.m. Monday for much of the northern and western half of the state, including the Dallas-Fort Worth region.
Wildfires were reported in Denton, Gillespie, Grayson, Leon, Oldham ,Wichita and Wise counties.
Two other small fires were reported in Parker County; near the Agnes community and in Weatherford.
Once the winds died down about 6 p.m. — coupled with a drop in temperatures and rising humidity — the threat of fires was greatly reduced.
But earlier in the day, when winds were gusting up to 40 mph, the fires raged — especially the one along I-20.
Dozens of firefighters from across North Texas battled the fires and evacuations were ordered for a stretch of I-20, including the Walsh residential development in far west Fort Worth. At the same time all lanes of I-20 and I-30 were shut down from Loop 820 to Farm Road 5.
“Basically, every fire department on the eastern side of Parker County is working the fire,” Parker County spokesman Joel Kertok said.
‘This is a mess’
The smoke was eerily thick.
“You ought to see the traffic now in Aledo because everybody had to get off the interstate,” said former Star-Telegram sports columnist Randy Galloway, an Aledo resident. “I was hearing on the radio that they shut down 30 right before the 30/20 split. I went on into Fort Worth and I was coming back to Aledo I saw how bad it had become. I jumped off and took the back roads, but the back roads are crammed because people had to get off the interstate.
“People don’t know where they’re going. This is a mess,” Galloway said about 3 p.m.
The grass fire along I-20 threatened homes near Willow Park but no structures were burned. One structure, however, was burned in a 25-acre fire near Agnes and an outbuilding burned in a 20-acre fire in Weatherford.
An evacuation was ordered for all residents along a stretch of I-20, including near Farmer Road West, Ranch House Road, White Settlement Road, Cattle Baron Road and Farm Road 730.
Students and staff at Walsh Elementary School were evacuated to the Daniel Ninth Grade Campus and those at McCall Elementary School were evacuated to Aledo High School, according to the Aledo school district.
Riley issued a disaster declaration, allowing the county’s road equipment to be moved on to private property to cut fire breaks.
Riley said firefighters were able to able to contain to the fire the north side of I-20 and were staged on the south side just in case the fire jumped the freeway.
“The issue of course is wind,” Riley said.
‘Folks just need to be cautious’
Firefighters have been worried about a difficult fire season this year because of tall grasses from wet weather last year.
The strong winds and low humidity were providing the perfect fuel for fires, prompting the red flag warning form the National Weather Service.
Only the cooler temperatures were preventing the fires from being even more intense, National Weather Service meteorologist Lee Carlaw said.
Riley said while a cause for the fire has not been determined, the very visible flames should remind everyone to pay attention when it’s dry and windy.
“Folks just need to be cautious,” Riley said.
Staff writers Jeff Caplan, Domingo Ramirez Jr. and Lance Winter contributed to this report.