The worst-ever wildfires in the history of Texas continued to rage Wednesday after charring thousands of hectares, gobbling up about 1,000 houses and killing four people, even as Gov. Rick Perry described the fires as 'mean, swift and highly dangerous.
While 600 houses were burnt in Bastrop alone, the largest fire, near Austin, spread across 33,000 acres of land. CNN reported that about 30 percent of the fire in the Bastrop County Complex was contained by early Wednesday. The winds that had peaked at nearly 30 mph had calmed to little more than half that strength Tuesday, giving firefighters a bit of a break, Texas Forest Service officials said.
A fire near Houston, called the Magnolia fire, was abating, according to Harris County officials.
The Bastrop fire claimed two more lives and forced the evacuation of 5,000 people. The dead were not public safety personnel, incident command officials said. The other casualties were a woman and her 18-month-old child whose home near Gladewater was engulfed by wildfire on Sunday.
Around 4,000 homes in Montgomery have been evacuated. In Travis County, wildfire destroyed 44 structures and damaged 74 others. But in the Steiner Ranch area, authorities allowed residents to return to their homes.
According to the governor's office, the Texas Forest Service responded to 181 fires and more than 118,400 acres were burnt over the last week. According to The State Column, new fires erupted in Bastrop, Travis, Henderson, Limestone, Caldwell, Colorado, Montgomery and Grimes counties in the last week.
The magnitude of these losses are pretty stunning ... We've got a lot of Texans living in shelters now, Perry said in West Austin.
A huge swathe of 3.5 million acres in Texas have been claimed by dozens of wildfires over the last nine months.
The State Column reported that Perry reissued disaster proclamations nine times this wildfire season, following one originally issued Dec. 21, 2010. The governor's request to the White House requesting a major disaster declaration had been turned down earlier in the year. A major disaster proclamation would have made the state eligible for direct federal assistance and emergency protective measures from the federal government, according to the report.
On the governor's appeal, the White House offered a partial approval of relief on July 1, and a request of the state to expand the scope of federal relief is still pending, says the report.