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Texas community hopeful despite 2nd destructive wildfire of 2011; blaze half contained
POSSUM KINGDOM LAKE, Texas (AP) ' Crews battling a wildfire that destroyed dozens of homes in a North Texas lakeside vacation community doused flare-ups on Thursday, hoping to keep the blaze from threatening any more neighborhoods before the typically busy unofficial end-of-summer weekend.
The blaze that started Tuesday in the Possum Kingdom Lake area was about 50 percent contained on Thursday, and it was still feasting on the bone-dry vegetation that blankets much of the drought-stricken state, authorities said.
The fire in the lakeside community 75 miles west of Fort Worth had destroyed at least 40 homes and blackened 6,200 acres, and it comes on the heels of a much larger, more destructive blaze that destroyed 160 homes in the community this spring.
Knowing just how quickly a wildfire can spread, some residents of one subdivision decided Thursday to leave their homes after flames flared up nearby.
It's hard enough in a down economy to find buyers for the vacation homes that make up a large part of the area's real estate, but even more so when you have to drive them through neighborhoods of rubble and scorched earth, said Jackie Fewell, an agent in the area.
"How do you get past that? Sometimes it's showing by boat. But you do have to learn how to share the vision of what this (community) will be in the future," she said.
Some of those whose homes burned down in April have decided not to rebuild because their insurance payouts wouldn't cover the construction costs, and others had been planning to sell, anyway, Fewell said.
Despite two devastating fires in four months, though, locals expect the community to recover soon. While firefighters worked to contain the blaze Thursday, at least one construction crew was hard at work rebuilding a home that had burned down months ago.
David Nicklas, Palo Pinto County's chief executive, said it may take years, but Possum Kingdom Lake area's once-picturesque beauty will return.
"The vast majority will rebuild, and there are opportunities for people who want to buy property from those who don't want to come back," said David Nicklas, Palo Pinto County's chief executive. "I think five years from now, this will be just a bad memory."
Ann M. Brown, 46, said she and her husband decided to rebuild their weekend home because they love the area and believe it will recover soon enough.
"We really love the people out there in addition to the beauty," said Brown, of Dallas. "The beauty is the lake and the limestone cliffs. Fire cannot take that away."
Texas is enduring its most severe drought since the 1950s, with bone-dry conditions made worse by weeks of triple-digit temperatures in many cities. Blazes have destroyed more than 5,470 square miles since mid-November, the typical start of the wildfire season.
Firefighters haven't had much of a break this summer, even after various crews battled what turned out to be seven of the 10 largest wildfires in state history this spring.
Usually the wildfire season wanes in the spring because of rain, greener vegetation and higher humidity, weather experts said. But the state's normally wettest months ' April through June ' were anything but this year because of the lingering La Nina weather condition that causes below-normal rainfall.
Fewell remains optimistic the community will recover, and she's even found a silver lining in the blackened landscape.
"After the fire in April, it looked shocking, but then we saw views of the lake that we'd never seen before," Fewell said. "There are actually a few positives if you look for them."
Associated Press writer Jamie Stengle in Dallas contributed to this report.