AUSTIN, Tex -- Wildfires in Montague County last week burned 80,000 acres of land, destroyed more than 70 homes, and claimed three lives. Friday, Texas Governor Rick Perry visited the area to see the damage first hand. Josh Stevenson brings us the report from Montague County.
"Texans reaching out neighbor helping neighbor, that's the Texas way," said Governor Rick Perry. Perry praised firefighters and first responders in Montague County Friday, after surveying the damage caused by last week's wildfires.
"The intense heat is as bad as I have ever seen before," Perry said.
Following his remarks, Governor Perry asked for questions from the floor. The first question didn't come from a reporter, but from Holly Russell, a woman who not only lost her home but very nearly her life in the fire.
"I called my mother and told her goodbye," Russel said. "I thought I was going to die."
Russell's question to the Governor was about county roads. There is only one public road leading to her house, and when she tried to escape, the road was completely blocked by flames.
"We can't get out and we looked and fire completely blocked the road we couldnt get out," Russell said.
With fire blocking the only exit in front of them, and their home now burning behind them, Russell, her husband and young daughter, along with some neighbors, were surrounded.
"They finally got to us, and they said follow us single file," said Russell.
The firefighters that saved the Russell family, like most of the men and women who helped get the wildfires under control, were volunteers. Governor Perry says they are owed a debt of gratitude.
"You know the firefighters we can't say thanks enough to them and if it hadn't have been for them it would have been a sadder day," said Governor Perry.
Russell says that the state of Texas has done a good job in getting help to the area, and to the victims of the wildfires. Governor Perry has requested a major disaster declaration for Montague, and several other counties. Bringing even more aid to those who, like Holly Russell, have lost everything.
"There was about a foot of ashes and for your house after 40 years to be gone and everyting in a minute is so devastating," Russell said.
AUSTIN – Gov. Rick Perry has requested a major presidential disaster declaration for Callahan, Clay, Jack, Montague, Wichita and Young counties, and reiterated the need for an emergency declaration for 199 Texas counties due to recent wildfires. The governor today met with local officials and toured areas in North Texas recently devastated by wildfires.
“I hope the sight of this devastation will underscore the need for the federal government to not only assist these communities in recovering from these devastating wildfires, but also combat wildfires that continue to burn across our state,” Gov. Perry said.
“Our hearts go out to the families and communities that have lost so much, and we pledge to continue working with local officials to prevent any further loss of life and property.”
During the Easter weekend, wildfires in 12 counties burned more than 155,000 acres and destroyed 94 homes in the area. Nearly 300 homes in Montague County were evacuated. To date, more than 400,000 acres have been burned this year by wildfires, with more than 200 homes destroyed and a substantial number of livestock injured or killed.
An emergency disaster declaration would provide federal assets and firefighting resources to assist the state in battling ongoing fires. The governor originally requested this declaration on February 24, and was denied on March 17. An appeal on was sent on March 20.
If approved, a major presidential disaster declaration would provide for:
•Individual Assistance, including the Individual & Households Program (IHP), disaster legal services, disaster unemployment assistance, crisis counseling, and small business administration disaster loans
•Public Assistance Categories A and B, including pre-staging reimbursement for state and local governments and debris removal; and •Hazard Mitigation statewide.
The Texas Forest Service, Texas Department of Transportation, Texas Military Forces, Texas Animal Health Commission, Texas AgriLife Extension Service, Texas Commission on Environmental Quality and Texas Department of Agriculture have responded to recent wildfires in Texas communities. Additionally, 43 fire departments from Dallas, Tarrant, Denton, Ellis, Grayson and Collin counties have responded to the wildfires to support efforts by local fire departments from the affected area.
To read the governor’s letter to the president, please visit www.governor.state.tx.us.