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One person dead, 130,000 acres burned in Texas wildfires

By Antoinette Campbell, CNN
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Wildfires tear through West Texas
  • Man accused of sparking one fire with a metal grinder
  • More than 130,000 acres have burned in 63 fires in Texas, the state forest service says
  • At least one fatality is reported from fire, according to authorities
  • Calmer winds may help firefighters, forestry officials say

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(CNN) -- Firefighters in Texas worked Monday to contain fast-moving wildfires that had destroyed at least 60 homes, burned more than 130,000 acres, and caused an accident that killed a 5-year-old child, state forestry officials said.

The fires broke out about noon on Sunday, said Lewis Kearney, a spokesman for the forest service's Texas State Lone Star Incident Management Team. Officials believe many were started by power lines that fell from high winds.

Since Sunday, forestry officials, who were called in to assist local fire departments, responded to 63 fires covering 132,854 acres, the Texas Forest Service said on its website. Most of the fires were across the Texas Panhandle, Kearney said.

Potter County Sheriff Brian Thomas said a 61,000-acre fire in his county was ignited when a man cut pipe with a metal grinder in high wind Sunday. Austin Lynn Stephens, 52, was arrested and charged with criminal trespass because he was on private property when he was using the grinder.

Firefighters battled blazes in a dozen other counties including a 35,000-acre fire in Matador West in Motley County, and a 21,000-acre fire in Andrews County. They also fought fires in the counties of Haskell, Tom Green, Randall, Howard, Midland, Scurry, Motley, Crockett, Mitchell and Eastland.

Crews that worked through the night to douse the flames got a little help from the weather Monday. The wind that propelled the fires was somewhat calmer, although it was still breezy and parts of the area remained under a fire-weather watch.

Kearney said Sunday's high winds made it difficult for firefighters to use aircraft to battle the blaze.

Interstate 20 was shut down for several hours Sunday after heavy smoke from the fires limited visibility. Authorities in Midland County responded to numerous accidents along the highway, including an eight-vehicle crash in which a little girl died, according to Sgt. Pete Cordova.

One wildfire destroyed a dog kennel near Amarillo, said Capt. Wes Hall of the Amarillo Fire Department. Authorities were trying to account Monday for the animals missing or dead after the fire tore through the Willow Creek Kennel. Firefighters were able to open cages to free at least some of the dogs before the flames overtook the facility.

As many as 27 homes were destroyed in the area and "the fire was on the kennel in a matter of minutes," employee Chance Smith said, adding he did not have an exact number of dogs lost.

In the community of Matador, north of Lubbock, families could do nothing but watch as their homes burned to the ground.

The Segovias hadn't been gone 20 minutes when they returned to a panic-stricken neighborhood and found they had lost everything they owned.

"To know everything you worked so hard for, it's all gone," a tearful Juan Segovia told CNN affiliate KCBD. He and his wife, Rosemary, stared in disbelief at the blaze.

The family of seven is without a home, but grateful for what was not lost.

"I'm glad our family wasn't home when it happened," Rosemary Segovia said before falling into her husband's arms. "That's all I care about is I have my family."

One firefighter sustained second-degree burns battling a blaze near Colorado City, where a nursing home had to be evacuated before the fast moving flames swept through.

And a Potter County sheriff's deputy narrowly escaped the flames while searching homes after a mandatory evacuation was ordered for the Mesilla Park area. Deputy Kevin Parvin entered a home as the flames were bearing down on the neighborhood, Thomas said, and by the time he left the home, the smoke was so thick he couldn't find his patrol car.

Parvin had left the car running, and he followed the sound of a squeaking engine belt to find it and radio for assistance, Thomas said. He was treated for minor smoke inhalation.

No other injuries were reported.

CNN's Dave Alsup contributed to this report