Texas wildfire in Bastrop County the worst ever single fire in the state

Bastrop 
A relentless Texas wildfire in Bastrop County east of Austin destroyed 476 homes and has set a somber state record: The highest number of homes lost in a single fire in Texas history.

Ironically, the winds generated by Tropical Storm Lee--that flooded parts of the Gulf Coast over the weekend--fanned the Bastrop fire Sunday and Monday. Even though weather forecasters predict winds will die down some on Tuesday, fire authorities said the blaze has "extreme" growth potential.

About 5,000 were evacuated, but most homeowners have been unable to survey their property and the number of lost homes is still being calculated, according to the Statesman newspaper in Austin. 

Texas is searing under high temperatures and severe drought conditions. At least 63 wildfires were burning in the state over the weekend. Fire statistics, assembled by InciWeb, an information clearinghouse, describe the magnitude of the ongoing  emergency:

  • Acres burned in Texas in  2011: 3.5 million
  • Proportion of total national fires in 2011 that have occurred in Texas: 34 percent
  • Six of the 10 largest wildfires in Texas history occurred in 2011.
  • Homes and other structures lost since Nov. 15, 2010: 45,359

"It almost feels like the whole state is burning," said Gary Bonnette, whose home was destroyed. 

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-- Molly Hennessy-Fiske and Stephanie Chavez

Photo:The chimney of a house remains standing as the rest of the building burns to the ground near Bastrop, Texas. Credit: Reuters


Hurricane Katia strengthens to Category 4

Katia3 
Hurricane Katia strengthened into a major Category 4 storm Monday night, but it is expected to steer clear of the East Coast this week.

The National Hurricane Center warned, however, that most of the Eastern Seaboard -- battered by Irene last week -- is expected to be hit with large swells that could cause life-threatening surf and rip currents.

Churning about 450 miles south of Bermuda, Katia's sustained winds reached reached 135 mph and the hurricane was moving northwest at about 10 mph.

The center forecast that Katia may fluctuate in strength in the next 24 hours before slowly weakening.

Hurricane specialist Robbie Berg told Reuters the greatest threat to the U.S. would likely be the dangerous coastal surf.

“Even though these storms may stay offshore, they still can be a deadly threat, especially to people going to the beach,” Berg said. “It may be a beautiful nice day out and you may just not know that there are rip currents there that can pull you out to sea.” 


View Forecast paths of Hurricane Katia in a larger map

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--Stephanie Chavez in Los Angeles

Photo: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) handout image shows a view of Hurricane Katia captured by satellite on September 6. / Reuters/ NOAA Environmental Visualization Laboratory


Indianapolis stage collapse: Death toll could rise from Sugarland concert accident

Fans_and_law_enforcement_work_to_lift_stage
Officials in Indianapolis said early Sunday that the toll could rise beyond the four confirmed dead after rigging and scaffolding collapsed onto a crowd waiting for the country band Sugarland to perform at the Indiana State Fair.

“I want to be very forthcoming -- we could have other deaths,” said Indiana State Police Sgt. Rich Myers. “We hope everyone will be praying for the injured.”

In a dramatic scene captured on a YouTube video, the towering stage equipment tumbled forward onto fans against a backdrop of darkened skies, a massive dust storm and gusty winds. One woman could be heard saying, “Oh my God, oh my God!”

Photos: Deadly stage collapse

“It was like it was in slow motion,” concertgoer Amy Weathers told the Indianapolis Star. “You couldn't believe it was actually happening.”

At least 40 people were injured and taken to local hospitals, where triage and family reunification rooms were set up. 

Shortly after the accident, Sugarland said on Twitter: “We are all right. We are praying for our fans, and the people of Indianapolis. We hope you will join us. They need our strength.”

In the choas afterward, scores of concertgoers rushed to the stage to lift broken scaffolding and equipment off people, Myers said during a televised press conference about five hours after the 9 p.m. accident.

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Chaos after deadly stage collapse at Indiana fair

Injured
Chaos and fear filled the air moments after a stage collapsed at the Indiana State Fair, killing at least four people and sending about 40 others to hospitals.

Some people ran for the exits. Some rushed the stage. All looked around for friends or family members in a desperate scramble to make sure they were safe.

An Indiana State Police spokesman said that those hospitalized suffered a range of injuries from minor to critical. Local hospitals had set up triage and family reunification rooms. 

At least one of the injured is a 7-year-old boy, according to local media reports. As seen in the photo here, Indianapolis Fire Department personnel and paramedics tended to the victims near the scene of the collapse.

Photos: Deadly stage collapse

Concertgoers had expected to put up with bad weather to see the popular country group Sugarland. But as the performance drew closer, an oncoming thunderstorm worsened. According to witnesses, an announcer reviewed evacuation procedures for the audience in case the need arose.

Then the winds picked up and roared over the fairgrounds, stirring a massive cloud of dust. The grandstands started to shake. A violent gust hit the stage and in an instant the scaffolding and rigging collapsed on the crowd.

"All of a sudden, the sky got black and here comes this wind and the stage came down," concertgoer Emily Davis told TV station WTHR, which had reporters swarming the story at the fairgrounds and at hospitals.

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Stage collapse eyewitness: 'Then we heard screams'

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-- Rene Lynch and Stephanie Chavez

Photo: Indianapolis Fire Department personnel and paramedics tend to the victims of a stage collapse before a concert at the Indiana State Fair Grandstands. (AP Photo /The Indianapolis Star, Matt Kryger)


Stage collapse eyewitness: 'Then we heard screams'

Indiana_State_Fair_stage_collapse_600
Associated Press photographer Darron Cummings was in the audience at the Indiana State Fair, attending the Sugarland concert as a fan, when the stage collapsed, apparently because of strong winds. Initial reports said four people died, but that number remains fluid as authorities try to sort out the chaos. More recent reports say at least three were killed and several more injured.

In one of the first reports from the scene, Cummings said an announcer gave the crowd instructions on how to evacuate if the weather worsened but said they hoped to get Sugarland on stage soon.

Photos: The scene moments after the stage collapsed

Cummings said he and his friends became concerned about their safety and sought shelter in a nearby barn after seeing the weather radar. “Then we heard screams. We heard people just come running,” Cummings told the AP.

In one of the first YouTube videos posted to document the scene, one person can be heard saying, "I don't wanna die" in what seems to be a response to the worsening weather, only to be followed by the shrieks and screams of people watching in horror as the stage tumbled forward onto fans.

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--Stephanie Chavez

Photo: The scene at the Indiana State Fair, where the stage collapsed in the face of stormy weather, killing at least three and injuring others. Photo credit: Steve C. Mitchell / EPA


Stage collapses at Indiana State Fair before Sugarland show

 

A stage collapsed at the Indiana State Fair moments before the county band Sugarland was to perform, killing at least three people and injuring others, according to the Indianapolis Star and the Associated Press.

Strong winds sweeping through the fairgrounds about 9 p.m. may have caused the stage rigging to collapse, according to the Star

Emergency crews were evacuating concertgoers and were attempting to rescue others trapped beneath the rigging, the newspaper reported.

Photos: Deadly state collapse at the Indiana State Fair

This YouTube video, above, was uploaded moments after the collapse. It shows the stage tumbling forward on top of fans and the chaos afterward. "Oh my God, Oh my God," one woman can be heard saying.

Shortly after the accident, Sugarland tweeted: "We are all right. We are praying for our fans, and the people of Indianapolis. We hope you will join us. They need our strength."

Photos: Deadly stage collapse

Concertgoer Amy Weathers told the newspaper that "it was like in slow motion. You couldn't believe it was actually happening."

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--Stephanie Chavez and Rene Lynch


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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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