Sixty separate wildfires, whipped by strong winds, were burning across Texas on Monday, destroying hundreds of homes and killing at least two people, officials said. Some of the winds came from Tropical Storm Lee, but no rain – no moisture to slow the wildfire’s rapid advance.
Since December, wildfires have consumed 3.6 million acres of Texas – an area the size of the state of Connecticut. Texas has been suffering its worst drought since the 1950s.The Texas forest service responded on Sunday to 63 new fires burning on more than 13,000 hectares, including 22 new large fires.
Officials said the worst of the fires was the Bastrop County Complex fire, which stretched for 16 miles (26 km). 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, one of the shelters around Bastrop, choked back tears as she told the Associated Press: “Waiting is the most frustrating thing.”
Officials estimate 424 homes may have been destroyed so far, including 300 from the Bastrop County Complex fire, east of Austin.
Tom Boggus, director of the Texas Forest Service, told CBS’ “The Early Show” that as of this morning “There’s no containment right now.” “We’ve been in a defensive mode for a couple of days now, and really all you can do is get people out-of-the-way, protect homes where you can, and make sure our firefighters are safe,” Boggus told reporters. “But today, the winds have died down so we can probably be much more aggressive, and we hopefully can get some containment on all these fires in the Austin area.”
Texas Gov. Rick Perry left the campaign trail Monday and returned to Texas for the latest outbreak of blazes. He cancelled his appearance at a candidate’s round-table in South Carolina on Monday to return to Austin.