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Balch Springs wildfires burn 26 homes and leave dozens homeless

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BALCH SPRINGS — A major grass fire spread to a Balch Springs neighborhood Monday afternoon, where it set fire to 26 homes — destroying nine of them — leaving dozens of people homeless.

The fire started when workers mowed a nearby field at the northwest corner of Interstate 20 and South Belt Line Road, according to Balch Springs Fire Marshal Sean Davis, although officials are still investigating whether anyone is at fault. A row of houses along Broadview Drive, not far from Mackey Elementary School, caught fire. By Monday evening, the grass fire was under control and the house fires were extinguished. There were no injuries and officials said they were investigating whether anyone was at fault.

Some neighbors tried to put out the fire with garden hoses. Others had just minutes to get out of their homes and leave everything behind.

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

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

“It happens in a lot of places, just people mowing hay or grass or something, and they cut something they haven’t seen, and it starts a fire and then travels like crazy,” Davis said.

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

“We are currently in unique weather conditions,” with warm weather and dry ground.

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

Her son works during the day and had been asleep by the police knocking on the door. She said she was going and banged on his window.

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

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

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

As the fire spread, firefighters called for an evacuation of all homes and buildings on Broadview Drive and Bell Manor Court, which also backs up to 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 a night shelter at a recreation center in the city, and some local hotels will accommodate residents and their pets for an extended period of time. The Red Cross helps displaced residents get supplies, find temporary housing and start insurance documents. Residents whose houses have not been damaged can remain in them.

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

Firefighters from Dallas and other nearby towns assisted the Balch Springs crews.

Neighbors say there have been several fires recently. Some expressed concern that the grass in the field where the fire started had grown too high.

“That area has been unexplored for so long, it’s like kindling is being lit 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 were appraised at the mid-$200,000 mark.

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

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

Resident Wendy Reppond was in the area Monday afternoon looking for her cat, Miss Kitty. Repond said she could get her two dogs and bird, but she didn’t have time to find the birdcage.

“The third house away from me, it’s gone,” she said. ‘I can’t find my cat. They won’t let me in to look for my cat anymore.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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