BALCH SPRINGS — A large grass fire spread Monday afternoon into a Balch Springs neighborhood where it burned 26 homes and destroyed nine, leaving dozens of homeless people.
The fire started as 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, though officials are still investigating whether anyone is at fault. A row of homes along Broadview Drive, not far from Mackey Elementary School, caught fire. By Monday evening the grass fire had been contained and the house fires were out. There were no injuries, and officials said they were investigating whether someone was at fault.
Some neighborhood residents tried to stave off the fire with garden hoses. Others had just minutes to get out of their homes, leaving everything behind.
“Lost everything. Just everything, ”said homeowner Miguel Quinonez, who had lived in his house with his wife for almost 14 years. He said he’d just bought a new truck that burned in the garage.
The fire in Balch Springs, a town of about 25,000 people just southeast of Dallas, came as firefighters across North Texas are battling fires that have destroyed dozens of homes, with drought and unseasonably high temperatures creating dangerous conditions. The fire marshal said the Balch Springs field tends to have a few fires a year that are put out quickly.
“It’s happening in a lot of places, just people out cutting hay or grass or something, and they’re clipping something they didn’t see, and it’s starting a fire and then traveling like crazy,” Davis said.
Officials don’t have an exact number of those displaced. They will give an update at 9 am Tuesday to let residents know when they can return.
“We’re in unique weather conditions right now,” with hot weather and dry ground.
Wanda Blanchette-Ware said she barely had time to wake up her son Jacoby Ogunniyi and two dogs, Bella and Lola, to get out of their Balch Springs house as the fire approached.
Her son works during the day and had slept through the police knocking on the door. She said she went and banged on his window.
“Honey there’s a fire, please get up!” she said, awakening 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, the fire marshal called for an evacuation of all homes and structures 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 an overnight shelter at a city recreation center, and some local hotels will put up residents and their pets for a longer period of time. The Red Cross will help displaced residents get essentials, find temporary housing and start insurance documentation. Residents whose homes weren’t damaged can stay in them.
“Right now, we don’t know where we’re going to spend the night tonight,” said Roberto Pinero, whose home of 13 years, that he had recently remodeled, was destroyed. He said his son called him about the fire, and “when I went and opened the back door the fire hit my face, and I took my family out.”
Fire crews from Dallas and other nearby cities assisted Balch Springs crews.
Residents said there have been several recent fires in the area. Some expressed concern that the grass in the field where the fire started had been allowed to grow too tall.
“That area has been undeveloped for so long, it’s just like kindling out there,” said Joe Perez, a homeowner who lives about four houses away from the fire.
Figures from the Dallas Central Appraisal District showed that the homes were built around 2005 and appraised in the mid-$200,000s.
Michael Jaramillo was at work when he got texts alerting him that his home was on fire. It was among the destroyed houses.
“It’s just sad. I don’t really care about the things, all the clothes and stuff,” he said. “I’m thinking about the things I can’t get back, the photos of my brothers and sisters and everything like that.”
Resident Wendy Reppond was searching the neighborhood Monday afternoon for her cat, Miss Kitty. Reppond said she was able to grab her two dogs and bird, but she did not have time to find the bird cage.
“The third house down from me, that one’s gone,” she said. “I can’t find my cat. They won’t let me back in to find my cat.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.