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Residents flee as wildfire rages in Texas
At least two people dead and thousands made homeless as worst wildfire in state's history destroys homes and businesses.
Last Modified: 06 Sep 2011 00:42

A roaring wildfire has raced through rain-starved farm and ranchland in Texas, destroying nearly 500 homes during a rapid advance fanned in part by howling winds from the remnants of Tropical Storm Lee.

A 20-year-old woman and her 18-month-old daughter died when the fast-moving wildfire gutted their mobile home in Gladewater, in the northeast of the US state.

At least 5,000 people were evacuated on Monday from their homes in Bastrop County east of Austin, many of them fearing the worst while spending the night in emergency shelters.

Bastrop is home to about 6,000 people.

The blaze consumed 10,117 hectares along a line that stretched for about 26km, Texas Forest Service officials said.

About 250 firefighters were working around the clock, using bulldozers and pumper trucks against the fire, Bastrop County Judge Ronnie McDonald reported.

The new outbreak led Governor Rick Perry to return home to Texas, cutting short a visit to South Carolina where he was campaigning for the Republican nomination for president. He also cancelled a trip to California, where wildfires also raged.

Authorities mobilized ground and air forces to fight the largest of at least 63 fires that broke out in Texas since Sunday as high winds from what was then Tropical Storm Lee swept into Texas, which has endured its worst drought since the 1950s.

"It's still putting up a lot of smoke and it's scary," Jan Amen, a Texas Forest Service spokeswoman said.

At least two-thirds of the 2,400-hectare Bastrop State Park, a popular getaway just east of Bastrop, had been consumed, said Mike Cox, with the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. All nonessential workers had been ordered out of the park.

"All I see is a wall of smoke," Cox said from the park's front gate. The park is home to several historic rock and stone buildings constructed in the 1930s and 1940s by the Civilian Conservation Corps.

"We're desperately trying to save them," Cox said. "The fire is getting closer and closer to that part of the park."

It was not immediately certain how the Bastrop blaze began, but it appeared that two fires merged to form the "monster" fire, Amen said.

No deaths or injuries have been reported in Bastrop.

Several other major blazes continued to burn in at least four other counties in Central and North Texas.

California wildfires

Meanwhile, a brush fire sparked by a barn and trailer blaze in northern Los Angeles county has spread to at least 202 hectares.

Don Kunitomi, county fire inspector, said on Monday the fire was burning close to several ranch homes in Agua Dulce, but there are no evacuation orders.

Kunitomi says a firefighter and a resident suffered minor injuries.

The fire is burning near the Vasquez Rocks nature centre, which has served as the backdrop for many Hollywood film and TV shows.

A seperate wildfire forced 650 residents living in a California mountain community, south of Tehachapi, to flee. That fire was caused by a plane crash.

Source:
Agencies
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