RINGGOLD, Texas -- Two days after a fierce brushfire swept through this rural cattle town, cinders still smoldered in the ruins yesterday.
The air was heavy with the smell of smoke and everywhere there were mangled metal, ash heaps and ugly swaths of black, charred earth.
"It came up on us so fast there was nothing to do but get out of the way and watch the town burn," said Kent Hanson, 49, who lost 300 acres of land in the blaze.
Here in Ringgold and elsewhere across Texas, Oklahoma and New Mexico, frequent high winds and a lingering drought have turned bone-dry communities into giant tinderboxes. Since Sunday, eight large fires have burned 200,000 acres of land in Texas alone.
"For the fires to be so widespread and just keep burning and burning, it's completely unusual for Texas," said Traci Weaver, spokeswoman for the Texas Forest Service. "But because we've been so dry, we're seeing a long, unprecedented fire season."
A spark from two power lines knocked together by high winds is believed to have ignited the fire that engulfed Ringgold on New Year's Day. Smoke in the distance quickly became a 17-mile-long wall of flames that jumped a state highway and burned a capricious path through town. The post office was destroyed, but churches and a nearby school were saved. In all, 32 homes - or half of the residences in this tiny town of 100 people - burned to the ground.
Firefighters believe the last of the flames in Ringgold were extinguished yesterday. All afternoon, cars streamed through the normally quiet town, slowing as people held cameras out the window to record the devastation. Returning residents picked through the rubble, but many found little to salvage.
"It's just too much for some people to start over and rebuild," said resident Betty Murphy. "This is going to become a ghost town."
Melvin Grissom, a 56-year-old truck driver, was away in Little Rock when Ringgold went up in flames. His next-door neighbor, Troy Taylor, tried to beat back the fire with a garden hose and shovels of dirt. When the water stopped running, Taylor improvised with bottles of spring water.
Taylor managed to save his own house, but when a gas can exploded in Grissom's garage, there was nothing to left to do but run to safety and let it burn.