Wildfires sweep across Texas, charring 1 000 homes

Wildfires sweeping across drought-stricken Texas have destroyed more than 1 000 homes in the last several days as they move into more populated areas, Governor Rick Perry said on Tuesday.

Perry surveyed damage in west Austin on Tuesday, where dozens of homes have been destroyed and hundreds evacuated.

Speaking after his visit, the Texas governor, who left the presidential campaign trail to deal with the fires, said he hopes cooler temperatures and slowing winds on Tuesday will help firefighters contain more than 50 fires across the state.

“The magnitude of these losses are pretty stunning,” Perry said at a news conference in west Austin. “We’ve got a lot of Texans living in shelters now.”

Earlier in a television interview, Perry called the fires in central Texas “a very fluid and very critical” situation.

Schools were closed and churches were filled with evacuees across central Texas on Tuesday, and blazes were still being fought in north Texas near Fort Worth and east to Houston.

Nearly 600 homes have been destroyed in communities on the outskirts of Austin and nearby Bastrop County, a rural community about 65km south-east of the city.

More than 1.5-million hectares in Texas have been scorched by wildfires since November, fed by a continuing drought that has caused more than $5-billion in damage to the state’s agricultural industry and shows no sign of easing.

Officials said the worst of the fires was the Bastrop County Complex fire, east of Austin, which stretched for 26km and more than 12 000 hectares.

Authorities said two people were killed on Sunday.

A small number of firefighters have been treated for heat-related issues, officials said, but no serious injuries have been reported among the hundreds of personnel on scene.

Perry, the front-runner among Republican presidential candidates, cancelled his appearance at a candidate roundtable in South Carolina on Monday to return to Austin.

He told reporters in Austin that he was focused on the firefighting effort and did not know whether he would attend a Republican candidates debate in California on Wednesday.

“We’ll deal with that as it shows up. I’m substantially more concerned with making sure Texans are being take care of,” he said.

Emergency shelters
In the past seven days, the Texas Forest Service has responded to 181 fires for nearly 48 000 hectares — and those were just the blazes being managed by the state.

The Bastrop County fire remained completely uncontained early on Tuesday.

Hundreds of residents there spent the night in emergency shelters set up in churches and schools.

“We can’t get back in to where the fire is burning so we can’t find out whether our house is still there,” said Donna Mathis, who fled her home with her family, two cars, and two dogs.

Winds from former Tropical Storm Lee, which had helped spread the fires over the weekend, died down overnight.

“Firefighters are certainly going to take advantage of any way we can leverage the wind,” said forest service spokesman Justice Jones. “But we know, we certainly have a long fight ahead of us.”

Monday’s explosive growth of the Bastrop Complex fire was wind driven, with flames leaping from tree to tree at speeds of up to 100km/h, according to the Texas Department of Public Safety.

“Every resource in the state is committed,” Jones said. “This is becoming more of a marathon than a sprint for us.” – Reuters

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever. But it comes at a cost. Advertisers are cancelling campaigns, and our live events have come to an abrupt halt. Our income has been slashed.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years. We’ve survived thanks to the support of our readers, we will need you to help us get through this.

To help us ensure another 35 future years of fiercely independent journalism, please subscribe.


‘Frustrated’ police resort to force

Regulation uncertainty leaves slap-happy police and soldiers to decide when people should or shouldn’t be allowed on the streets

Mail & Guardian needs your help

Our job is to help give you the information we all need to participate in building this country, while holding those in power to account. But now the power to help us keep doing that is in your hands

Press Releases

New energy mix on the cards

REI4P already has and will continue to yield thousands of employment opportunities

The online value of executive education in a Covid-19 world

Executive education courses further develop the skills of leaders in the workplace

Sisa Ntshona urges everyone to stay home, and consider travelling later

Sisa Ntshona has urged everyone to limit their movements in line with government’s request

SAB Zenzele’s special AGM postponed until further notice

An arrangement has been announced for shareholders and retailers to receive a 77.5% cash payout

20th Edition of the National Teaching Awards

Teachers are seldom recognised but they are indispensable to the country's education system

Awards affirm the vital work that teachers do

Government is committed to empowering South Africa’s teachers with skills, knowledge and techniques for a changing world

SAB Zenzele special AGM rescheduled to March 25 2020

New voting arrangements are being made to safeguard the health of shareholders