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Texas wildfire destroys hundreds of homes

A wildfire burning near Austin, Texas, destroyed about 300 homes, forced the evacuation of many others and was advancing unchecked on Monday through parched ranchland along a 16-mile front, authorities said.


The fire had blackened more than 17,500 acres since it started on Sunday and was the largest of the dozens burning in the drought-stricken state. It was headed away from the state capital, some 30 miles to the northwest, and consuming the water-starved woods and brush with such ferocity that it was deemed unsafe to fight from the ground, Texas Forest Service spokesman Jan Amen said.

“It’s a monster and it’s zero per cent contained,” Ms Amen said.

Instead, the state deployed its firefighting air fleet, including National Guard helicopters and four heavy tanker planes. It also summoned a tanker from South Dakota.

Emergency shelters were set up for those forced to evacuate their homes. About 30 people spent the night at a Bastrop church, waiting to learn if they had lost everything.

Texas is enduring its worst drought since the 1950s, and the wildfire threat has been exacerbated by powerful wind gusts cast off by Tropical Storm Lee, hundreds of miles to the east. The blaze near Bastrop among at least 63 that had started Sunday or Monday.

Gov. Rick Perry cut short a campaign visit to the key nominating state of South Carolina on Monday and cancelled a planned trip to California in order to return to Texas to oversee the firefighting efforts, Ray Sullivan, a spokesman for the Republican’s presidential campaign, said in a statement.

Mr Perry said: “We will pick up the pieces, we will rebuild.”

“I urge Texans to take extreme caution as we continue to see the devastating effects of sweeping wildfires impacting both rural and urban areas of the state,” the governor added in a statement on his website.

There had been no reported injuries linked to the Bastrop County fire. But a fast-moving blaze in the East Texas town of Gladewater on Sunday killed a 20-year-old woman and her 18-month-old daughter, trapping them in their burning home. That fire was eventually extinguished.

Nearly half of Bastrop State Park, a 6,000-acre preserve east of Bastrop, was gone, KVUE-TV in Austin reported.

The park and several major highways in the area were closed but a handful of people whose RV’s were left overnight in the popular park were being allowed in to retrieve them, she said.

Texas has experienced more than its share of destructive storms, including Hurricane Ike three years ago. But the state’s anxious farmers and ranchers would have welcomed the rain that Tropical Storm Lee dumped instead on Gulf Coast states further east. Instead of water, Texas got winds, which combined with an advancing cold front to heighten the wildfire threat.

All but three of the 254 counties in Texas were under outdoor burn bans.

Filed in: World News

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