Sparks from power lines ignited a 1,700-acre grass fire Monday that closed two interstates and threatened hundreds of homes in eastern Parker and western Tarrant counties.
The Parker County Fire Marshal’s Office said it found evidence of an electrical malfunction at a power pole along Fox Hunt Trail in Willow Park.
It is believed that one wire disconnected from a pole and was whipping around when it hit a ground wire, sending sparks to the ground and starting the fire, said Parker County Fire Marshal Kurt Harris.
“Once it got into that grass on the other side of the road, there was nothing to stop it until it reached the interstate,” Harris said. “Fort Worth was huge in keeping that from jumping the interstate and Walsh Ranch Road.”
Driven by 40 mph winds, the grass fire raced across eastern Parker County, creating a blanket of smoke that closed down Interstates 20 and 30 for several hours, and forcing evacuations in the area, including two elementary schools.
More than 200 firefighters from Parker, Tarrant, Jack and Wise counties fought the fire.
“It is really miraculous no one was hurt,” said Parker County spokesman Joel Kertok. “There were some instances where the fire went all the way around the homes.”
Harris said the speed of the grass fire was “both a blessing and a curse.”
The fire moved so fast that firefighters couldn’t get in front of it but the speed prevented the fire from “superheating” combustibles in the yards of homes.
In two smaller grass fires, a home, a carport, barn and fence were damaged near Agnes in northern Parker County and an outbuilding was lost in a grass fire in Weatherford. The Agnes fire was started by a welder.
The fires are a sign that homeowners in rural settings need to have a defensible space around their homes. That means having nothing combustible next to the house like firewood or trash. But it can also mean shrubbery and trees, which can also burn and then catch a home on fire.
Monday’s fires also served as a reminder that residents should have an escape plan. Within minutes Monday, drivers were enveloped in limited or zero visibility from the smoke, which played a role in closing the interstates and other roads.
“They say you should have two routes to escape but sometimes conditions make things impossible,” Kertok said.
Parker County officials credited local law enforcement, the Texas Department of Transportation and the Department of Public Safety with keeping drivers out of harm’s way as the fire intensified.
The Texas A&M Forest Service said it responded to nine wildfires across the state Monday, totaling 2,692 acres. Wildfire conditions improved across most of Texas on Tuesday but the Forest Service said fire conditions could intensify in the Texas Panhandle on Wednesday.
Unless it rains — and showers are in the forecast for later this week — Monday’s grass fires could be just the start of an extreme fire season in Texas.
“This is just a precursor,” Harris said. “We haven’t even stepped into the extreme yet. If it doesn’t rain — and I’m not talking about an inch of rain but a really good soaker — we’re probably talking days — not weeks.”