Brian Curtis, NBCDFW.com
Five years after a devastating wildfire, the West Texas town may be stronger than ever.
Five years after a devastating wildfire destroyed more than 100 homes, a North Texas town is back on its feet.
It was warm and windy in Cross Plains on Dec. 27, 2005. The National Weather Service had declared a critical fire area for most of the central part of the state. The conditions were eerily similar to this year.
Just before 1 p.m., a spark ignited the parched plains west of town. Investigators say it might have been a cigarette tossed out a car window.
The wind quickly fanned the flames toward Cross Plains, southeast of Abilene.
"It felt like the air was so hot. It felt like the air was going to explode in your face," said Mayor Ray Purvis.
Despite the efforts of firefighters, including those from nearby Abilene, two people died, and 116 homes were destroyed.
But five years later, Cross Plains has recovered. Most of the affected residents stayed, and many rebuilt.
In some ways, the town may be stronger than ever.
"We have a greater sense of the strength of community," said the Rev. Ronnie White, pastor of the First Baptist Church. "This city came through with shining colors. They did good."
Residents tell harrowing tales of survival.
Nora Odom drove through blinding smoke as she fled her home.
"When I got to the really blinding part, it was almost like an angel... A tunnel opened up, and I drove on through," she said.
Beverly Ross and her daughter ran for their lives.
"There was a gap in the field we ran through," Ross said. "We climbed through two barbed wire fences."
Odom and Ross both lost their homes.
The town's Methodist church also burned to the ground.
"There was a whole bunch of us up here just watching it burn," said Arlene Stephenson, a member of the congregation.
But before the ashes had cooled, Cross Plains was already pulling together.
"That's that tough West Texas spirit," Ross said. "We pulled ourselves up."
We weren't settin' around waiting for the government or somebody to come in," Mayor Ray Purvis said.
In the days that followed, food, volunteers and donations poured into town.