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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.'

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"What we're seeing is more proactive action by law enforcement entities and local governments to get citizens out of the way," says Mr. Stanford.

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But police scanner chatter from places like the P K Complex fire, 70 miles west of Fort Worth, show law enforcement working to change the minds of people who had decided to stay and fight the fires.

Why they stay

In Hog Bend, a small lakeside peninsula on the reservoir, Jim Gribble faced the same predicament as many other lakeside residents in older, uninsured homes.

"I could not afford to lose my home," he told the Fort Worth Star Telegram newspaper.

Mr. Gribble and another neighbor battled for days to protect some 20 homes, including their own, using garden hoses, shovels, brooms and lawnmowers to fight the fires and cut breaks. Five of the homes were lost, the rest saved, at least partially due to their efforts.

Alicia Whitt credits her Texas-tomboy upbringing and an "Alamo attitude" for staying behind with her partner, Jay Guy, and another couple to protect a local water plant and help firefighters find food and shelter.

"We did everything we could and stayed up incredibly long hours ... to keep the fire from getting onto the water plant," says Ms. Whitt, who stayed behind in the Sportsman's World subdivision, where 57 homes eventually burned. "They helped save a lot of things behind where the water plant stands."

Possum Kingdom resident Jackie Fewell, who now runs a PK fire blog to keep residents abreast of the latest fire news, said she heard of one resident sneaking in and out of the fire zone in an ambulance in order to get food to firefighters. Dozens of these stories describe residents dodging law enforcement in order to remain on the scene.

"There were some real heroes in those communities for what they did," including saving homes, rescuing pets and livestock and assisting firefighters, she says.

Nevertheless, Texas authorities have actively tried to discourage residents from staying as wildfires continue to dog the cinder-dry state.

"The potential for loss of life is there – we would not be evacuating them if that wasn't the case," says Marq Webb, a spokesman for the Texas Forest Service. "I don't think that a structure is worth anybody's life."

IN PICTURES: Texas wildfires


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