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Texas wildfires torch 1,000 homes

  • 9-6-2011

Dozens of wildfires raging in rain-starved Texas are now known to have engulfed more than 1,000 homes, say state officials.

The biggest of the blazes - 16 miles (26km) wide - in rural Bastrop County remained completely uncontained early on Tuesday.

Firefighters hope calmer winds will help them control the fires, which have prompted mass evacuations.

Powerful gusts from Tropical Storm Lee have been fanning the flames.

Texas has been suffering its worst drought since the 1950s.

Schools closed

Speaking at a news conference on Tuesday, Texas Governor Rick Perry said more than 100,000 acres (40,470 ha) had been scorched by at least 57 wildfires in Texas over the past week.

More than 1,000 homes had been burned over the past week, added Texas emergency management chief Nim Kidd.

On Monday, officials said about 500 homes had been destroyed.

The National Weather Service said that winds had dropped early on Tuesday to 5mph - compared with 30mph a day earlier - and were expected to remain calm for the rest of the day.

Texas Forest Service spokeswoman Victoria Koenig said the forecast was encouraging for firefighters who have found it almost impossible to contain the wind-whipped flames.

The Bastrop county fire has been leaping from tree to tree at speeds of up to 60mph, according to the Texas Department of Public Safety.

About 5,000 people have been forced to leave their homes because of the Bastrop fire and hundreds have taken refuge in emergency shelters.

Gina Thurman, an evacuee at a Catholic Church that is being used as a shelter around Bastrop, choked back tears as she told the Associated Press: "Waiting is the most frustrating thing.

"You're sitting there and you don't know anything but your house is probably burning."

Nearly 600 of the homes that have been destroyed are in Bastrop, said the Texas Forest Service.

Schools were closed on Tuesday in that county because of the fire.

'Stunning losses'

On Tuesday, Gov Perry visited West Austin to survey the damage.

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

Earlier, Mr Perry cut short presidential campaigning to return to the state, saying the next 48-72 hours would be crucial in the battle against the conflagration.

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Reproduced under licence from BBC News © 2011 BBC

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