Wildfires sweep across Texas, charring 1,000 homes

Blazes move into more populated areas in drought-stricken Texas over past several days; Texas governor surveys the area.

September 7, 2011 12:38
2 minute read.
Home burns near Bastrop, Texas

Texas Wildfires 311 R. (photo credit: Mike Stone / Reuters)


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Texas Governor Rick Perry surveyed damage in west Austin on Tuesday, following the destruction of 1,000 homes throughout Texas.

Dozens of homes were destroyed and hundreds of residents evacuated in west Austin. Speaking after his visit, the governor, who left the presidential campaign trail to deal with the fires, said he hopes cooler temperatures and slowing winds on Tuesday will help firefighters contain more than 50 fires across the state.

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"The magnitude of these losses are pretty stunning," Perry said at a news conference in west Austin. "We've got a lot of Texans living in shelters now."

Schools were closed and churches were filled with evacuees across central Texas on Tuesday, and blazes were still being fought in north Texas near Fort Worth and east to Houston.

Nearly 600 homes have been destroyed in communities on the outskirts of Austin and nearby Bastrop County, a rural community about 65 km southeast of the city.

More than 1.5 million hectares in Texas have been scorched by wildfires since November, fed by a continuing drought that has caused more than $5 billion in damage to the state's agricultural industry and shows no sign of easing.

Officials said the worst of the fires was the Bastrop County Complex fire, east of Austin, which stretched for 26 km and more than 12,000 hectares.

Authorities said two people were killed on Sunday.

In the past seven days, the Texas Forest Service has responded to 181 fires for nearly 48,000 hectares -- and those were just the blazes being managed by the state.

The Bastrop County fire remained completely uncontained early Tuesday. Hundreds of residents there spent the night in emergency shelters set up in churches and schools.

"We can't get back in to where the fire is burning so we can't find out whether our house is still there," said Donna Mathis, who fled her home with her family, two cars, and two dogs.

Winds from former Tropical Storm Lee, which had helped spread the fires over the weekend, died down overnight.

"Firefighters are certainly going to take advantage of any way we can leverage the wind," said forest service spokesman Justice Jones. "But we know, we certainly have a long fight ahead of us."

Monday's explosive growth of the Bastrop Complex fire was wind driven, with flames leaping from tree to tree at speeds of up to 100 km per hour, according to the Texas Department of Public Safety.

"Every resource in the state is committed," Jones said. "This is becoming more of a marathon than a sprint for us."

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