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Wildfires destroy 1,000+ homes

More than 5,000 residents evacuate as wind-whipped fires continue to gallop across state

AUSTIN, Texas (UPI) | September 6, 2011

"The fire is so dynamic we really have no idea where it is"

—Mike Fisher

More than 1,000 homes have been destroyed in Texas as firefighters continue to battle out-of-control wildfires stoked by high temperatures and drought.

Texas' most destructive wildfire ever -- one of more than 63 raging statewide -- consumed more than 25,000 acres and 500 homes near Austin, officials said.

Another one of the wind-whipped infernos killed a mother and her 18-month-old child who were unable to escape their mobile home near Gladewater, east of Dallas.

The fires -- driven by high winds across large areas of parched ground -- forced Texas Gov. Rick Perry to leave the Republican presidential campaign trail in South Carolina to return to the state and organize requests for federal aid.

The giant Bastrop County fire 30 miles southeast of Austin -- forcing more than 5,000 people to evacuate -- relentlessly moved south Tuesday and expanded, pushed by strong winds and fed by dry grasses, shrubs and trees, officials said.

The blaze jumped the Colorado River twice Monday, the Houston Chronicle reported.

"The fire is so dynamic we really have no idea where it is," county Emergency Management Coordinator Mike Fisher told the newspaper.

The blaze burned in heat and wind conditions so severe that firefighters couldn't mount a land attack, Texas Forest Service officials said. More than 250 firefighters dumped water from planes and helicopters.

School district officials canceled Tuesday classes and transformed a middle school into a shelter for evacuees.

"I don't think we've ever seen a wildfire season like this" since the 1980s, Perry said Monday after surveying the Bastrop fire by helicopter.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency would likely arrive Wednesday, he said, and Texas would seek federal disaster relief.

He also said officials would consider seeking military resources from nearby Fort Hood.

Perry said it was too soon to know whether he would participate in Wednesday's GOP presidential debate in California. He said he was "not paying attention to politics right now. People's lives are at stake."

The cause of the Bastrop fire was under investigation. There were indications it started in a residential subdivision.

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