(Photo: AP Images / LM Otero)
Texas Gov. Rick Perry has declared a statewide three-day period of prayer for rain as a major wildfire threatens thousands of homes and consumes over a million acres of land following a severe drought.
“I … under the authority vested in me by the Constitution and Statutes of the State of Texas, do hereby proclaim the three-day period from Friday, April 22, 2011, to Sunday, April 24, 2011, as Days of Prayer for Rain in the State of Texas,” Perry wrote in a public letter on Thursday.
“I urge Texans of all faiths and traditions to offer prayers on that day for the healing of our land, the rebuilding of our communities and the restoration of our normal and robust way of life.”
The prayer days happen to fall on Easter weekend.
Since January 1, the Texas Forest Service has responded to more than 800 fires that have damaged some 5,000 structures across 1.4 million acres. The wildfires ravaging the state are fueled by vegetation dried after a long period of severe drought and water shortages.
“We're actually seeing Texas burn from border to border. We've got it in west Texas, in east Texas, in north Texas, in south Texas – it's all over the state,” said Forest Service spokeswoman April Saginor, in a CNN Radio broadcast. “We've got one in the Dallas area that's four fires that have actually merged together.”
Potential agricultural failure from fires including loss of crops and livestock was among the concerns raised by Perry, who has served as state governor for 11 years. Agriculture remains a top industry in the state, and is a livelihood for thousands of families.
Thousands of firefighters from counties throughout the state are fighting the blazes. Tragically, two local volunteer firefighters have already given their lives in the line of duty.
Firefighter Greg Simmons, 51, died on Friday while fighting the East Sidwynicks fire in Eastland County. He was reportedly struck by a vehicle while abandoning a fire truck that had been trapped in a fire-consumed pasture.
Elias Jaquez, 49, succumbed to third-degree burns on Wednesday after sustaining fire-related injuries 11 days ago, Cactus City Manager Steve Schmidt-Witcher announced on Thursday. Jaquez is survived by his wife and four daughters.
In addition to directing instate firefighters, the Texas Forest Services has accepted the assistance of more than 1,800 firefighters from 36 other states.
The Texas National Guard has provided four helicopters that carry “Bambi baskets,” a device designed for dropping large amounts of water over the fire. Crewmen have dropped more than 730,000 gallons of water this season.
Churches have already responded to hydration needs of emergency personnel working in the disaster zone, providing bottles of much-needed water.
Local churches pledged to give more than 38,000 bottles of water, according to officials with the Northwest Texas Conference of the United Methodist Church. They announced plans to ship 22 pallets of water to at least four fire work staging areas.
Other churches and The Salvation Army are also distributing free meals.
Although cooler fire-friendly conditions returned to various parts of the state on Thursday, meteorologists are still concerned that the ground is too dry and may simply absorb the moisture.
“Even if we get two inches of rain, the ground's going to eat it up,” said Weather Service meteorologist David Hennig, according to CNN. “We need a pattern shift.”
While firefighters have been able to contain some fires due to cooler temperatures, the conditions are not expected to last.
Perry mentioned that Texas in its 175-year history has been “strengthened, assured and lifted up through prayer.”
“It seems right and fitting that the people of Texas should join together in prayer to humbly seek an end to this devastating drought and these dangerous wildfires,” he said.