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Texas wildfires largely controlled, but risks remain

September 19, 2011 | 12:54 pm

The Texas Forest Service says wildfires that began more than two weeks ago in Bastrop County have been 95% contained.

Weekend rain and cooler temperatures helped improve firefighting in the area about 30 miles east of Austin, officials said. The fire killed two people and destroyed 1,554 homes, a record number for a single fire.

Actor Jack Black, who last year filmed a movie in Bastrop, returned Sunday to tour the wildfire damage and visit with some of those who lost homes.

Black was joined by director Richard Linklater, who lives in Austin but has a house in Bastrop that was destroyed by the fire. The pair held a benefit screening of "Bernie," a film about a small-town Texas funeral director, to aid fire victims.

Across the state, other major fires had also been brought under control by Monday, but risks remained, fire officials said.

The southeast fire in the Houston area that burned 32,330 acres was fully contained, according to Jesse Renteria, a spokesman with the Texas Forest Service.

“They’re still out there mopping it up. They just have a grip on it now,” Renteria said.

The northeast fire near the Louisiana border that had burned 52,951 acres was also fully contained, Renteria said.

Conditions, however, remain dry, and four small fires erupted Sunday, but firefighters were able to bring them under control, he said.

“The situation is a lot better at this time. We’re getting some rain, but we do need a lot more rain than we’re getting now," Renteria said. "The rain brings the lightning strikes, and sometimes you don’t see the smoke right away. You have a spark, and two or three days later you have a wildfire.”

Jon Pelton, a meteorologist working with the state's forest service in West Texas, said various areas of the state from Houston to Ft. Worth and Abilene have received from a half-inch to several inches of rain over the weekend, but that was not enough to lower the fire risk significantly.

“It doesn’t erase the drought by any means. It would take several more inches of rain if not a few feet of rain in the eastern parts of the state that are normally wetter to erase the drought," Pelton said. "All this does is slow down fire behavior.”

Temperatures are expected to stay in the normal range this week, Pelton said, which may make it easier on firefighters but won't stop new fires from erupting.

“When you’re warmer, you’re more unstable, so it has a little effect, but the overall drought is the major contributor,” he said.

A cold front is expected to pass through the state midweek, but the rain it brings will be more isolated and scattered, with the best showers in the Panhandle, Pelton said.


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Texas wildfire kills two people who refused evacuation orders

-- Molly Hennessy-Fiske reporting from Houston

Photo: Clydene Coy combs through rubble caused by wildfire at her home Thursday in Bastrop, Texas. Credit: Ricardo B. Brazziell / Austin American-Statesman / Associated Press