Texas Wildfires Destroy 1,000 Homes
AUSTIN, Texas -- More than 1,000 homes have been destroyed in at least 57 wildfires across rain-starved Texas, most of them in one devastating blaze close to Austin that is still raging out of control, officials said Tuesday.
Speaking at a news conference near one of the fire-ravaged areas, Texas Gov. Rick Perry said more than 100,000 acres have burned in the drought-stricken state.
The Texas Forest Service says nearly 600 of the torched homes were in Bastrop County, some 25 miles from Austin. The agency said that blaze was still uncontained Tuesday. It was the most destructive fire of the year for a state that has had more than 3 million acres burned, said state emergency management chief Nim Kidd.
The number of destroyed homes is expected to go higher as officials assess hard-hit areas, Kidd said.
Perry, who interrupted his campaigning for the Republican presidential nomination, toured one of the fire-ravaged neighborhoods Tuesday morning.
"Pretty powerful visuals of individuals who lost everything," Perry said. "The magnitude of these losses are pretty stunning."
Calmer winds Tuesday were expected to help in the battle against wildfires that flared up when strong winds fed by Tropical Storm Lee swept across Texas over Labor Day weekend.
Texas Forest Service spokeswoman Victoria Koenig said it was too early to say how much progress was made fighting the wildfire in Bastrop County overnight. The agency says the fire has grown to 30,000 acres.
"It's encouraging we don't have winds right now, not like yesterday," Koenig said early Tuesday.
Even with the encouraging conditions, Koenig said it was a "tough, tough fire" that was raging through rugged terrain, including a ridge of hills.
"You can still see the hills glowing quite a bit," she said.
At least 5,000 people were forced from their homes in Bastrop County, and about 400 were in emergency shelters, officials said Monday. School and school-related activities were canceled Tuesday.
In Bastrop, a town of about 6,000 people along the Colorado River, huge clouds of smoke soared into the sky and hung over downtown Monday. When winds picked up, flames flared over the tops of trees. Helicopters and planes loaded with water flew overhead, and firefighters along a state highway outside the city converged around homes catching fire.
The fire was far enough away from Austin that the city was not threatened, but it consumed land along a line that stretched for about 16 miles, Texas Forest Service officials said.
There were no immediate reports of injuries, and officials said they knew of no residents trapped in their homes.
On Sunday, about 200 miles to the northeast in Gladewater, a 20-year-old woman and her 18-month-old daughter died when a fast-moving wildfire gutted their mobile home.