Four dead as massive bushfires ravage Texas

Four dead as massive bushfires ravage Texas

07 September 2011

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USA — Bastrop County Sheriff Terry Pickering said today he had no details about the victims, including when or how they died.

The fire was the largest of dozens burning throughout the drought-stricken state.

It started on Sunday near the town of Bastrop, about 40km south of Austin, and quickly spread, fanned in part by winds from Tropical Storm Lee, which dumped its rain on Gulf Coast states further east.

The state Forest Service said that firefighters hadn’t begun to contain the fire, which had destroyed about 600 homes and forced the evacuation of hundreds of others.

State emergency management chief Nim Kidd said it was the most destructive fire of the year in Texas, and the number of homes destroyed would likely go up after the hardest-hit areas were assessed.

Texas officials say more than 1000 homes had been destroyed and more than 40,000 hectares had burned in wildfires over the past week.

A fast-moving blaze in the East Texas town of Gladewater on Sunday killed a 20-year-old woman and her 18-month-old daughter, trapping them in their burning home.

That fire was eventually extinguished.

Governor Rick Perry, who cut short a presidential campaign trip to South Carolina yesterday to return to help oversee firefighting efforts in Texas, toured a blackened area near Bastrop today.

“Pretty powerful visuals of individuals who lost everything,” Governor Perry said.

“The magnitude of these losses are pretty stunning.”

Some residents said they were surprised by how quickly the blaze engulfed their neighbourhoods.

“We were watching TV and my brother-in-law said to come and see this,” Dave Wilhelm, 38, who lives just east of Bastrop said.

“All I saw was a fireball and some smoke. All of a sudden: Boom! We looked up and left.”

Mr Wilhelm returned today to find his neighbour’s house and three vehicles gone, some of his own children’s backyard toys destroyed, but their house spared.

“Some stuff is smoldering on the lot behind us. Inside of the house, we smell like a campfire. We’re definitely very lucky.”

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