RINGGOLD, Texas - Firefighters battling blazes across drought-stricken Texas, Oklahoma and New Mexico feared conditions could worsen Tuesday as forecasters predicted high winds and drier, warmer weather.
Since Dec. 27, fires have charred thousands of acres of grassland and farmland, and destroyed more than 250 structures in the three states. Four deaths were reported last week in Texas and Oklahoma.
On Monday, authorities went house to house in a search for victims in burned-out towns including Ringgold, where a weekend blaze destroyed most of the ranch-and-cattle community of about 100 people near the Oklahoma line. Fifty homes and 40,000 acres were torched as wind swept the fire 13 miles from Ringgold to Nocona.
Coylee Grimsley and her two sons watched their home burn just hours after she had cooked a large meal to celebrate the new year.
"We was enjoying it, and here come the flames," she said. "If you'd been there, you'd have thought the world was going to end."
In Oklahoma, calm winds and higher humidity levels helped firefighters bring the flames under control and officials said late Monday that all major wildfires in the state were under control.
But the National Weather Service said conditions could worsen in the region, predicting low humidity, above-normal temperatures in the 70s and high winds that could make it more difficult to fight fires from the air.
Computer models showed no rain soon, said Jesse Moore, a National Weather Service meteorologist in Fort Worth. He said the region's last appreciable rain was about a quarter-inch on Dec. 20. Oklahoma is more than a foot behind its normal rainfall of about 36 inches for this time of year.
"We're not out of danger yet," said Oklahoma Gov. Brad Henry. "We can't let our guard down."
Nearly 60 fires began burning Sunday in north and west Texas and weary firefighters - including crews from Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, Tennessee and Wisconsin - worked to contain them.
By late Monday, a 35,000-acre blaze near the small towns of Carbon, Gorman and Desdemona had been beaten back to just a few hundred acres of mostly open ranch land, said Mark Pipkin of the Eastland Fire Department.
Two fires covering about 90,000 acres still burned near San Angelo and a 6,700-acre fire threatening 70 homes in the Panhandle county of Donley also continued to burn.
Since the rash of wildfires began in Texas, more than 215,000 acres have been consumed, 250 homes destroyed and three people killed, figures from the Texas Forest Service show.
Crews in southeastern New Mexico were helped by calmer weather as they mopped up four fires Monday that had blackened more than 53,000 acres of grassland and burned 11 houses and two businesses near Hobbs.
The flames forced the evacuation of 200 to 300 people on the city's fringe - including about 170 from two Hobbs nursing homes. All but about 50 had returned home by midday Monday, authorities said.
Since Nov. 1, Oklahoma wildfires have covered more than 285,000 acres and destroyed 200 buildings, said Michelle Finch, a spokeswoman for the Agriculture Department's forestry division.
With his grandparents' Oklahoma City home left in smoldering ruins, 10-year-old Cameron Batson found something to be thankful for: He pointed out the basketball goal in the driveway remained intact after the three-level brick home was turned into ashen rubble.
"We had some good times here," the boy said Monday, his voice cracking with emotion. "It was a pretty house."