Balch Springs bushfire burns 26 homes and leaves dozens homeless

BALCH SPRINGS — A large grass fire spread through a Balch Springs neighborhood Monday afternoon, where it burned down 26 homes – destroying nine of them – and left dozens of people homeless.

The fire started when workers were mowing a nearby field on the northwest corner of Interstate 20 and the South Belt Line Road, according to Balch Springs Fire Marshal Sean Davis, though officials are still investigating if anyone is to blame. A row of homes on Broadview Drive, not far from Mackey Elementary School, caught fire. On Monday evening, the grass fire was contained and the house fires extinguished. There were no injuries, and officials said they were investigating if anyone was to blame.

Some residents tried to put out the fire with garden hoses. Others had only minutes to leave their homes and leave everything behind.

“Lost everything. Everything,” said homeowner Miguel Quinonez, who has lived in the house with his wife for nearly 14 years. He said he just bought a new truck that caught fire in the garage.

The blaze in Balch Springs, a town of about 25,000 people southeast of Dallas, came as firefighters across North Texas battle blazes that have destroyed dozens of homes, with drought and unusually high temperatures creating dangerous conditions. The fire marshal said the Balch Springs field typically has a few fires a year that are quickly extinguished.

“It’s happening in a lot of places, just people mowing hay or grass or something and they cut something that they didn’t see and it starts a fire and then it travels like crazy,” Davis said.

Officials do not have an exact number of those displaced. They will provide an update Tuesday at 9am to let residents know when they can return.

“We are in unique weather conditions right now,” with hot weather and dry soil.

Wanda Blanchette-Ware said she barely had time to wake up her son Jacoby Ogunniyi and two dogs, Bella and Lola, to leave their Balch Springs home as the fire approached.

Her son works during the day and was asleep when the police knocked on the door. She said she went and banged on his window.

“Darling, there’s a fire, please get up!” she said, waking him up.

Blanchette-Ware said she saw her neighbors watering their grass, but the fire was too intense.

“Then the wind came and blew the fire all the way down the street,” she said.

As the fire spread, the Fire Marshal ordered the evacuation of all homes and buildings on Broadview Drive and Bell Manor Court, which also adjoin the field where the grass fire started.

Balch Springs City Manager Susan Cluse said the city is working with the Red Cross to set up overnight accommodation at a city recreation center and some local hotels will accommodate residents and their pets for longer periods. The Red Cross will help the displaced to get basic necessities, find temporary housing and complete insurance documents. Residents whose houses were not damaged can remain in them.

“Right now we don’t know where we’re going to stay tonight,” said Roberto Pinero, whose 13-year-old home he recently renovated was destroyed. He said his son called him about the fire, and “when I left and opened the back door, the fire hit my face and I got my family out.”

Fire crews from Dallas and other nearby cities assisted the Balch Springs crews.

Local residents said there have been several fires in the area recently. Some expressed concern that the grass in the field where the fire broke out had grown too tall.

“This area has been undeveloped for so long it’s like kindling out there,” said Joe Perez, a homeowner who lives about four houses from the fire.

Figures from the Dallas Central Appraisal District showed the homes were built around 2005 and valued in the mid-$200,000 range.

Michael Jaramillo was at work when he received text messages alerting him that his house was on fire. It was among the destroyed houses.

“It’s just sad. I don’t really care about things, all the clothes and stuff,” he said. “I think about the things I can’t get back, the photos of my brothers and sisters and stuff like that.”

Resident Wendy Reppond searched the neighborhood for her cat, Miss Kitty, Monday afternoon. Reppond said she was able to snag her two dogs and the bird, but didn’t have time to find the bird cage.

“The third house from me is gone,” she said. “I can’t find my cat. They won’t leave me to find my cat.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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