Low humidity and gusting winds fuelled wildfires on Friday in the US state of Texas, burning homes and other structures and prompting the evacuations of hundreds of small communities.
Several fires merged to form what fire officials call a complex that was burning near Eastland, about 195 kilometres west of Dallas.
As of Friday morning, the fires had burnt about 162 square kilometres, Texas A&M Forest Service said.
It was only 2 per cent contained and fires were burning in thick brush and grass fields.
The forest service said that the “rare, high impact wildfire phenomenon” could also affect parts of Oklahoma and Kansas.
About 18,000 people live in Eastland County, where the large fire was burning, and about 475 homes were evacuated in the town of Gorman.
Officials do not yet know how many structures may have burnt, said Matthew Ford, spokesman for Texas A&M Forest Service.
“Until we get more boots on the ground we don’t have an estimate” of the total numbers, Mr Ford said on Friday morning. “Our top priority is life, safety and protection of structures.”
Other smaller fires were burning throughout other areas of Texas and Thursday’s low humidity and high winds created an ideal scenario for the blazes to quickly grow out of control.
Texas A&M Forest Service had warned of a wildfire outbreak this week because of the forecast.
There were no reports of injuries.
A nursing home in Rising Star was evacuated and residents were taken to a community centre, Eastland County Today reported.
The National Weather Service in Fort Worth said on Friday that much of western and central Texas faces an elevated fire risk from gusting winds and drought conditions.
The weather service urged residents to check for local burn bans and use caution with anything that could start a grass fire.
“We had a fairly dry summer last year and that continued into the fall and winter,” said National Weather Service meteorologist Madison Gordon. With winter passing, “we now have a lot of fuel available in fields.”
A Baptist church in central Ranger, Texas, about 137 kilometres west of Fort Worth, was destroyed on Thursday when flames engulfed the 103-year-old building.
The police department and other historic buildings were also burnt, Dallas TV station WFAA reported.
The fires caused hazy conditions hundreds of kilometres away, with the Houston Fire Department and the city’s Office of Emergency Management on Friday morning sending out automated phone messages alerting area residents to smoke and ash.