Drought stricken state hit by wildfires

Tuesday 06th Sep 2011 by theWeather Club

Firefighters in the US state of Texas are battling a 26km wildfire that has destroyed almost 500 homes, in a state already struggling to cope with the worst drought it has seen for decades. Officials said the fire had “grown considerably” and was now burning in various parts of an area spanning 25,000 acres. Texas Governor Rick Perry, who is out on the presidential campaign trail, was forced to return to the state saying that the next 48 to 72 hours would be crucial in the progress of the crisis.

As scores of fires rage almost uncontrolled across the state, the situation is being exacerbated by powerful winds from Tropical Storm Lee hundreds of miles to the east which are fanning the flames. An estimated 5,000 people have been forced to leave their homes because of a fire in the Bastrop area, about 50km south-east of the state capital Austin. Earlier, Jan Amen of the Texas Forest Service described the central Texas blaze as “a monster” that had been “zero percent contained”. The fire is the largest of dozens of wildfires burning throughout the state, including more than 60 that started on Sunday August 4th. “We have about 16 miles (16km) long at this time and about six miles (9.5km) wide” Bastrop County Fire Chief Ronnie McDonald said, referring to the size of the biggest blaze which has devoured almost half of the Bastrop State Park.

Gov Perry said in a statement: “I urge Texans to take extreme caution as we continue to see the devastating effects of sweeping wildfires impacting both rural and urban areas of the state.” He urged people to heed evacuation orders and not to stay in their homes if they had lost power, as reports of people losing their lives trying to defend their homes have filtered in. “I understand that losing your home or lifetime possessions is incredibly difficult, but do not put your life in jeopardy,” Mr. Perry said. Recent fires across Texas have burned 3.5 million acres, Mr. Perry said, adding: “That's roughly the size of Connecticut.” Conditions in Texas have been ripe for fires to spread as the state has been suffering its worst drought since the 1950s.