March 17, 2006
As of Tuesday, the fire had killed 11 people and 10,000 head of cattle, with 850,000 acres, or about 1,328 square miles, already scorched across the Texas Panhandle. Four people died in a chain-reaction crash on Interstate 40 east of Groom as smoke obscured the road, and low visibility eventually forcing officials to close an 89-mile stretch of the highway from Amarillo to Shamrock for six hours on Sunday.
Miraculously, Craig and Debbie traveled through that very area Sunday, describing the harrowing experience as follows: “As we were coming upon Groom, the westbound I-40 freeway was stopped and we sat there in our motorhome for about 15 minutes when we saw waves of flames coming across the grass in a field to the right of us. The second wave hit a ranch near us and the third wave appeared as if the home on the ranch was engulfed in flames. With each wave of flames, the fire would get closer and closer to the freeway until it was about 100 yards away from us,” Debbie continues. “Then fire jumped onto the grassy area between the freeway and a side road. We were prepared to abandon the motorhome and had our computer and valuables to take with us.
At that time, fire officials told us we should back up the motorhome and go the wrong way on the freeway to ‘get out and get out now!’ The slopes were steep on either side of the freeway so large vehicles were unable to turn around – a couple of normal vehicles tried and got stuck. We were unable to back up our motorhome because of all the big rigs behind us.
The only place we could cross that didn’t appear to be on fire was the center median. We had to go forward towards the flames in between big rig trucks to turn around and drive on the side of the freeway the wrong way. Then we had to cross the sloped center grassy median to go east on I-40. Being in a motorhome, we could have easily got stuck on the slope or flipped over because of winds blowing 55 mph.,” says Debbie.
The travelers were eventually able to skirt the fire by going on highways 70 to 287 to Amarillo and then west on I-40 to get back to their home in Canyon Lake.
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