STONEHAM, Texas Firefighters waited to see if rain forecast for Thursday would help or hinder their efforts to battle wildfires that have blackened tens of thousands of acres in Southeast Texas and forced thousands of people to evacuate their homes.
Crews also are hoping that their fire containment lines hold up, especially in Grimes County about 60 miles northwest of Houston, said Jason Curry, spokesman for the federal incident management team coordinating East Texas firefighting efforts.
That fire, which has burned about 5,300 acres and destroyed more than 70 homes and other buildings, was 75 percent contained Wednesday night, Curry said. Two people have been reported injured in the blaze.
On Thursday, residents in six areas finally got to return to their homes for the first time since Sunday. However, there were many residents in the central evacuation zone who were still being kept out. It was not clear when those people would be able to return to their homes, said Texas Forest Service officials.
More than 2 inches of rain fell on the county Wednesday and the National Weather Service predicted a 30 percent chance of scattered showers and thunderstorms in the area Thursday. More rain would be welcome, but a mixed blessing, Curry said.
The mud hinders the movement of our equipment, he said.
Nonetheless, all but 26 of the state s 254 counties are under burn bans Thursday, due to an enduring drought that has left much of Texas tinder dry.
A blaze in Trinity and Polk counties that has burned more than 20,222 acres and two homes is 60 percent contained. It was sparked last weekend when the heat from a trailer bearing ignited some dry brush.
In terms of fire behavior, the weather has done a lot, Curry said. The area is smoldering and burning in areas where the vegetation has kept the rain off the ground. Those areas are still dry and they ll burn.
In some parts of the state, temperatures that routinely have been in triple digits lingered in the 70s and 80s on Wednesday.
No new fires of significance were reported Wednesday, but the Texas Forest Service continued to battle 17 large fires that have consumed more than 145,000 acres.
About 2,000 residents have been forced from their homes since the fires began, but officials have started to allow some residents to return as conditions improved thanks to the rain and the firefighting efforts.
More than 200 evacuees who attended a town hall meeting Wednesday night in Stoneham at first gave emergency responders a standing ovation. But some questioned why they hadn t been allowed to return to their homes.
Justice Jones, a regional unit coordinator for the Texas Forest Service, said safety concerns prevented authorities from lifting all the evacuation orders.
Curry said authorities do not know how many people have returned or remained under evacuation orders. Jones has advised people anxious to return home to be patient.
In Jasper County in East Texas, a 4,200-acre fire was declared nearly 100 percent contained. Another encompassing 5,000 acres in Haskell County, in west central Texas, also was contained, along with smaller blazes in Tyler, Newton and Stonewall counties.
A body, believed to be that of an undocumented immigrant, was found in a burned area of Brooks County in South Texas on Wednesday. Authorities believe the man may have died of heat exhaustion before the fire broke out.