Texas wildfires torch 1,000 homes

The fires still burn and many homeowners have lost all they own to the flames

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Dozens of wildfires raging in rain-starved Texas are now reported to have engulfed more than 1,000 homes.

The biggest of the blazes - 16 miles (26km) wide - in rural Bastrop County, is burning out of control for a third day, having destroyed 600 homes.

Two people were reported to have died in the Bastrop blaze, a local sheriff said, amid hopes for calmer winds to help control the fires.

Texas has been suffering its worst drought since the 1950s.

Schools closed

Speaking at a news conference on Tuesday, Texas Governor Rick Perry said more than 100,000 acres (40,470ha) had been scorched by at least 57 wildfires in Texas over the past week.

More than 1,000 homes had been burned over the past week, added Texas emergency management chief Nim Kidd.

On Monday, officials said about 500 homes had been destroyed.

Map showing areas at risk of fire in Texas

Bastrop County Sheriff Terry Pickering said two people had died in the Bastrop fire, in addition to two people who died in east Texas on Sunday.

The National Weather Service said that winds had dropped early on Tuesday to 5mph - compared with 30mph a day earlier - and were expected to remain calm for the rest of the day.

Texas Forest Service spokeswoman Victoria Koenig said the forecast was encouraging for firefighters who have found it almost impossible to contain the wind-whipped flames.

Start Quote

You're sitting there and you don't know anything but your house is probably burning”

End Quote Gina Thurman Bastrop County resident

The Bastrop county fire has been leaping from tree to tree at speeds of up to 60mph, according to the Texas Department of Public Safety.

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 that is being used as a shelter around Bastrop, choked back tears as she told the Associated Press: "Waiting is the most frustrating thing.

"You're sitting there and you don't know anything but your house is probably burning."

Nearly 600 of the homes that have been destroyed are in Bastrop, said the Texas Forest Service.

Schools were closed on Tuesday in that county because of the fire.

'Stunning losses'

On Tuesday, Gov Perry visited West Austin to survey the damage.

"The magnitude of these losses are pretty stunning," Gov Perry said. "We've got a lot of Texans living in shelters now."

Earlier, Mr Perry cut short presidential campaigning to return to the state, saying the next 48-72 hours would be crucial in the battle against the conflagration.

The Republican White House hopeful said he was unsure if he would be attending a televised presidential debate on Wednesday in California, because of the disaster.

Across the state, firefighting crews are straining to refill at lakes and rivers affected by the long drought. More than 250 firefighters were on the ground in Bastrop alone.

A small number of firefighters have been treated for heat-related issues, officials said.

"There's practically a fleet of aircraft in the air," said Jan Amen, a Forest Service spokeswoman.

"Problem is, we have to share them with other fires because there's so many burning in the area."

A blaze in east Texas killed a 20-year-old woman and her baby daughter on Sunday before it was extinguished.

Texas has been plagued by wildfires since the end of last year, the result of a continuing drought that has caused an estimated $5bn (£3bn) of damage to the state's agricultural industry.

Since December, 3.5m acres in Texas have been claimed by wildfires, an area about the size of the state of Connecticut, say state officials.

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