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Firefighters gain ground on Texas wildfires

September 10, 2011 |  1:58 pm

Bastrop fire

This post has been corrected. See the note at the bottom for details.

Fire-scarred Texas began to turn its attention toward recovery Saturday as containment of the state’s most destructive fire grew and President Obama signed a federal disaster declaration that will give residents access to federal aid.

The Bastrop County Complex fire in Central Texas, which killed two people and destroyed nearly 1,400 homes, is about 40% contained, the Austin American Statesman reported. Even more important, firefighters have halted the conflagration’s growth and nothing was ablaze outside the containment lines.

But the Bastrop blaze, which began Sunday east of Austin, continued to smolder inside fire lines, meaning thousands of evacuees continued to wait to get back into their neighborhoods. Those who are allowed back in often discover a moonscape of charred trees and the ruins of homes.

In a statement released Saturday by the Texas Forest Service, Tony Wilder, incident commander for the Southern Area Red Team, explained the challenge of the Bastrop fire: “Fighting the Bastrop fire is extremely complicated. Because there are many homes at risk within the perimeter of the fire, we have to divide our attention between securing the perimeter and protecting homes that are still at risk."

The Lone Star State has endured drought and scorching heat this summer. Texas set a national record for the hottest meteorological summer (June 1 to Aug. 31), with an average temperature of 86.8 degrees. That beats a record set by Oklahoma during the Dust Bowl in 1934.

The Texas Forest Service reported that in the past seven days it has responded to 179 fires which burned 170,686 acres.

For the record, 1:25 p.m. Sept. 11: An earlier version of this post incorrectly described the Bastrop fire as the largest being battled in Texas. It is the most destructive of the current blazes.

RELATED:

Texas pleads for help as fires sear state

U.S. has second hottest summer on record

Texas firefighter pained by house he could not save

-- Ashley Powers in Phoenix

Photo: A firefighting crew from Lassen National Forest in California cleans up hot spots in Bastrop, Texas, on Saturday. Credit: Associated Press.

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