Perry asks for federal aid in wake of wildfires

Perryasks for federal aid in wake of wildfires

2 February 2008

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USA — When volunteer firefighter Ignacio Reyes got home from a four-hourbattle with a grassfire on the other side of town, he was greeted with ahorrifying sight: The home he shares with his paralyzed older brother had burnedto the ground.

“It was just smoke,” Reyes, a 40-year-old high school custodian,said Saturday. “I just panicked and wondered what happened to my brother.Thank God a neighbor came out and pulled him out.”

Reyes’ home was one of seven lost in the 19,000-acre fire that was stillburning Saturday in this town of about 3,600 located about 80 miles south of SanAntonio. Another 15 homes had minor damage and 150 had heavy smoke damage,according to local emergency officials. There were no deaths or injuriesreported Saturday.

The fire, which destroyed the buildings Thursday, was about 70 percentcontained by Saturday night, said Texas Forest Service spokeswoman SandraTaylor.

It was one of numerous fires around the state for which Gov. Rick Perryrequested federal aid Saturday. In a letter to President Bush, Perry identified184 Texas counties threatened or impacted by wildfires this week in asking for apresidential disaster declaration for the state.

The governor’s office said Saturday that 75 wildfires have destroyed 60 homesand structures and burned at least 70,000 acres. More than half the counties inthe state have been under recent burn bans.

Perry also added 31 counties to his state disaster proclamation issuedearlier this week. A presidential disaster declaration would make the stateeligible for federal aid.

The governor’s office said more high winds and dry conditions favorable towildfires are expected to continue through next week.

“As wildfires continue to rage across our state, Texas is reaching itscapacity to respond to these emergencies and is in need of federal assistance,”Perry said in the letter.

Among the hardest-hit counties is LaSalle, where Cotulla is the county seat.

Wildfires are common enough in this part of South Texas that Reyes saidvolunteers get about 80 calls a year. But Reyes said this one is far from common.

“This is the biggest one we’ve seen,” he said. “And I’ve beenhere most my life.”

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