16-Mile Long Wildfire Consumes 3.6 Million Acres, 1,000 Homes in Texas
Wildfires sweep across Texas, charring 1000 homes
Reuters, Sept. 6, 2011
(Reuters) - Wildfires sweeping across drought-stricken Texas have destroyed more than 1,000 homes in the last several days as they move into more populated areas, Governor Rick Perry said on Tuesday.
Perry surveyed damage in west Austin on Tuesday, where dozens of homes have been destroyed and hundreds evacuated.
Speaking after his visit, the Texas 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.
"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."
Earlier in a television interview, Perry called the fires in central Texas "a very fluid and very critical" situation.
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 40 miles southeast of the city.
More than 3.6 million acres (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 16 miles and more than 30,000 acres.
Authorities said two people were killed on Sunday.
A small number of firefighters have been treated for heat-related issues, officials said, but no serious injuries have been reported among the hundreds of personnel on scene.
Perry, the front-runner among Republican presidential candidates, canceled his appearance at a candidate roundtable in South Carolina on Monday to return to Austin.
He told reporters in Austin that he was focused on the firefighting effort and did not know whether he would attend a Republican candidates debate in California on Wednesday.
"We'll deal with that as it shows up. I'm substantially more concerned with making sure Texans are being take care of," he said.
In the past seven days, the Texas Forest Service has responded to 181 fires for nearly 120,000 acres -- 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 60 miles per hour (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."
Wildfire destroys nearly 500 homes in Texas
The Associated Press, Sept. 5, 2011
BASTROP, Texas — A roaring wildfire raced unchecked Monday through rain-starved farm and ranchland in Texas, destroying nearly 500 homes during a rapid advance fanned in part by howling winds from the remnants of Tropical Storm Lee.
At least 5,000 people were forced from their homes in Bastrop County east of Austin, many of them fearing the worst while spending the night in emergency shelters. Huge clouds of smoke soared into the sky and hung over downtown Bastrop, a town of about 6,000 people along the Colorado River.
The blaze consumed as much as 25,000 acres (10,100 hectares) along a line that stretched for about 16 miles, Texas Forest Service officials said.
It destroyed 476 homes and about 250 firefighters were working around the clock, using bulldozers and pumper trucks against the fire, Bastrop County Judge Ronnie McDonald said.
The new outbreak led Gov. Rick Perry to return home to Texas, cutting short a visit to South Carolina where he was campaigning for the Republican nomination for president. He also canceled a trip to California.
Authorities mobilized ground and air forces to fight the largest of at least 63 fires that broke out in Texas since Sunday as high winds from what was then Tropical Storm Lee swept into Texas, which has endured its worst drought since the 1950s.
"It's still putting up a lot of smoke and it's scary," Jan Amen, a Texas Forest Service spokeswoman said.
School and school-related activities were canceled for Tuesday.
There were no immediate reports of injuries.
On Sunday, however, northeast in Gladewater, a 20-year-old woman and her 18-month-old daughter died when a fast-moving wildfire gutted their mobile home. That fire was out Monday, although several other major blazes continued to burn in at least four other counties in Central and North Texas.
At least two-thirds of the 6,000-acre (2,400-hectare) Bastrop State Park, a popular getaway just east of Bastrop, had been consumed, said Mike Cox, with the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. All nonessential workers had been ordered out of the park.
"All I see is a wall of smoke," Cox said from the park's front gate. The park is home to several historic rock and stone buildings constructed in the 1930s and 1940s by the Civilian Conservation Corps.
"We're desperately trying to save them," Cox said. "The fire is getting closer and closer to that part of the park."
It was not immediately certain how the Bastrop blaze began but it appeared that two fires merged to form the "monster" fire, Amen said.
To the west of Austin in Travis County, at least 20 homes were lost and 30 others were damaged in another fire. More than 1,000 homes were under mandatory evacuation and 25 lost in a third fire also in the Austin area.
Texas has experienced more than its share of destructive storms, including Hurricane Ike three years ago. The state, however, anxiously would have welcomed the rain that Tropical Storm Lee dumped on Gulf Coast states farther east.
Instead, Texas got Lee's winds, which combined with an advancing cold front to heighten the threat of blazes in a state where crews have responded to nearly 21,000 wildfires since the traditional fire season began early in the year.
All but three of the 254 counties in Texas are under outdoor burn bans.
The governor's office said at least 40 Texas Forest Service aircraft were involved in the firefighting Monday along with a half-dozen Texas military aircraft. Since the beginning of the wildfire season, local and state firefighters have responded to more than 20,900 fires burning more than 3.6 million acres (1.46 million hectares).
Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.