US & Canada

Texas wildfires destroy a million acres

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Media captionBone dry conditions and winds are said to have whipped up the flames

Firefighters in the US state of Texas are battling to contain wildfires which have burned more than one million acres in the past fortnight.

One official told CNN fires were burning "from border to border", with some covering more than 100,000 acres.

Long-term drought, high temperatures and gusting winds have created ideal conditions for the fires to spread.

Several towns have been evacuated and flames are now close to Fort Worth, one of the state's largest cities.

The Texas Forest Service said it had responded to 11 new fires on Tuesday, in addition to the scores already burning across the state. Nearly 200 homes were reported to have been destroyed.

Planes have been dropping water and fire retardant on the burning areas while firefighters have been dousing threatened homes.

The Texas Forest Service is now fighting more than 20 active fires across Texas, according to the Austin American-Statesman newspaper.

Forest Service spokeswoman Holly Huffman told the newspaper that a harsh winter and the driest March on record had "combined for an overabundance of tall, dead grass and shrubs that serve as kindling" for the wildfires.

Firefighters from more than 34 states are reportedly involved in the operation to combat the wildfires.

'Chaotic wind'

On Friday, Possum Kingdom State Park was closed, while residents of several communities around Possum Kingdom Lake, about 70 miles (113km) west of Forth Worth, have been evacuated. Some 200 inmates were also moved from the Palo Pinto county jail.

Image caption Forecasters say there is a chance rain will help firefighters in the coming week

Ash was reported to be falling from the sky in several towns.

"I was seeing flame lengths of 40ft [12m] last night," forestry spokesman Lee McNeely was quoted by Reuters as saying.

"The fire's coming at Possum Kingdom Lake from just about every angle at any given time."

Officials said the fire was unlikely to reach Fort Worth itself, which has a population of about 750,000.

Weather forecasters say there is a 30% chance of rain in the region on Wednesday and Thursday, which could ease conditions.

But Daniel Huckaby, a forecaster at the National Weather Service in Fort Worth, warned that some areas would see no rain, and that the change in weather could increase the danger.

"With the chaotic wind that thunderstorms can produce, and the lightening they can produce, that can make matters worse," he told the Associated Press.

The US National Weather Service has said higher humidity and decreased wind are expected over northern Texas in the coming week, which it said would "certainly be good news for fire fighting operations".

Texas Governor Rick Perry has asked President Barack Obama to issue a Major Disaster Declaration for the state in the face of the fires.

In a letter last week, he told Mr Obama that Texas was "reaching its capacity to respond to these emergencies" and needed federal help to protect homes and citizens.

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