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Biggest question for Texans facing wildfires: Flee or fight?

Some Texans ignored evacuation orders to fight wildfires with garden hoses and lawn mowers. Their neighbors hail them as 'heroes' but experts call it 'a really dangerous game.'

By Staff writer / April 25, 2011

The P K Complex fire burns outside a popular lakeside community. The sign at the gate of the 'Sportsman's Paradise' gated community reads: 'Smoke on the water. Barbecue Chili Cookoff.'

Lee McNeely / Texas Forest Service


Wildfires blazing across Texas have at times overwhelmed the ability of firefighters to protect homes, leading some Texans to ignore evacuation orders and stand guard with garden hoses as towering flames approach.

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News emerged Monday of average citizens involved in fiery standoffs and cat-and-mouse games with police, even as a break in the weather gave way to the furnace-blasts of hot air that have fueled this historic fire season.

With nearly 2 million acres burned and 350 homes destroyed by wildland fires, many residents are reluctant to leave their neighborhoods. At least a few decided to make a stand, with or without official sanction.

"In our area, the fact is that the homes that belonged to the ones who stayed behind were still standing and a lot of the homes from which people fled were burned," says Revis Daggett, an inn owner in Fort Davis, Texas, whose home was briefly threatened by the still-burning Rockhouse fire. "That's something people are thinking about."

IN PICTURES: Texas wildfires

Ignoring wildfire evacuation orders "is a really dangerous game," says Debbie Miley, executive director of the National Wildfire Suppression Association. "They're not outfitted with all the gear and training that a wildland firefighter has to have. It's scary to watch them [stay behind] with a garden hose and a T-shirt on. They're really taking their life into their own hands."

The sheer size and speed of this year's Texas wildfires have sorely tested the Texas Forest Service, now backed by the US Forest Service. During the hottest, windiest parts of the heaviest-fire days, nearly 1,800 firefighters from 33 states must revert to playing defense as the fire "heads" raged uncontrolled.

Most are evacuating

To be sure, the vast majority of people in wildfire-struck areas did heed evacuation orders, which Mark Stanford, fire operations chief of the Texas Forest Service, attribute to greater fire awareness. At least 10 entire towns and dozens of individual neighborhoods and subdivisions have been evacuated over the past few months, usually for brief periods of time.


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