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      Firefighters, Red Cross prepare for wildfires

      A year ago, wildfires began to take a heavy toll on the Texas Panhandle.

      And now, firefighters are getting ready to hear that bell go off non-stop once again. According to Randall County Fire Chief James Amerson, training for new fires began as soon as everyone caught their breath from the fires in 2011.

      "I've been doing this about 37 years now and we've seen some bad wildfire seasons," he said, "but last year's is the worst I've ever witnessed."

      Randall County saw nearly 19,000 acres of land burn last year. And from that, 37 residences were destroyed, 16 were damaged and nearly 2,400 people had to be evacuated. Since then, firefighters have been preparing to take on the fires in different ways.

      "Getting our equipment ready, changing our tactics somewhat and taking the lessons learned from last year and getting ready to put them into effect this year," Amerson stated.

      Amerson said the Randall County Fire Department spent about $70,000 repairing equipment that was damaged and volunteer firefighters took annual leaves from their other jobs so they could help.

      The American Red Cross aided fire victims with immediate needs, and they were so busy their resources also began to run out. Hundreds of volunteers provided water, blankets and clothing to the victims, and in some cases even financial assistance. The Red Cross recommends everyone have a fire plan in case a wildfire comes their way.

      "Be able to develop a plan," Texas Panhandle Red Cross Executive Director Chris Knight said. "Have that ready to go, have a kit ready to go, have an exit strategy ready to go. You know, you talk about all those things and people say, 'It won't happen to me.' Guess what? It does."

      Potter County commissioners have extended the county burn ban for another 90 days, and Texas County, Okla., has declared extreme fire danger.