Texas wildfires: More than 1,000 homes lost, thousands evacuated

Blackhawk_helicopter
The wildfires in Texas continue to roar out of control, destroying more than 1,000 homes. With seemingly no end to the flames in sight, more than 5,000 residents were evacuated from the most-threatened areas.

Gov. Rick Perry told CBS that he hopes that today's forecast calling for cooler temperatures and slowing winds would help firefighters make headway. But he stressed: "It's still a very critical and very fluid situation."

The fires are being fueled by unforgiving weather conditions -- the region's relentless drought conditions and high winds attributed to former Tropical Storm Lee.

Photos: Texas wildfires

The disaster continued to unfold overnight: 22 new fires cropped up, at least 10 of which were labeled "large" by the Texas Forest Service. Combined, they have already consumed more than 7,544 acres. In all, there are an estimated 85 fires burning in the state.

Some of the newest fires were triggered by power lines that were torn down in the winds, or by residents barbecuing or getting in some chores -- such as welding -- over the long Labor Day weekend. Such seemingly innocent activities offered just enough spark to fuel a fire. 

"It's hot, dry and windy," Melanie Stradling, a spokeswoman for the Texas Forest Service, told The Times. "It's extremely hot on a regular basis, and you've got high winds and heat and lack of rain."

The wildfires are particularly serious in Bastrop County, east of Austin, where more than 5,000 residents were evacuated. At least 476 homes were destroyed there, the highest number of homes ever lost in a single fire in Texas history.

In the town of Bastrop itself, helicopters and planes loaded with water could be seen overhead as firefighters converged around homes catching fire along a state highway outside the city.

"Waiting is the most frustrating thing," said Gina Thurman, 47, choking back tears as she sat by herself on a curb outside Ascension Catholic Church, one of several shelters in the area. "You're sitting there and you don't know anything but your house is probably burning."

Perry, considered by many to be the Republican front-runner in the race for the White House, canceled plans to appear at a candidate forum in South Carolina on Monday so he could deal with the unfolding disaster. It was unclear whether he would make Wednesday's debate at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library & Museum in Simi Valley.


View Texas fires in a larger map

ALSO:

Hurricane Katia avoiding East Coast

Texas wildfire: worst ever single fire in the state

Tropical Storm Lee loses strength, but flood threat remains

--Rene Lynch
twitter.com/renelynch

Reuters and the Associated Press contributed to this report.

 Photo: A Black Hawk helicopter carries water to the wildfire burning out of control near Bastrop, Texas, on Monday. Credit: EPA / Larry W. Smith

 
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Rene Lynch has been an editor and writer in Metro, Sports, Business, Calendar and Food. @ReneLynch

As an editor and reporter, Michael Muskal has covered local, national, economic and foreign issues at three newspapers, including the Los Angeles Times. @latimesmuskal


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