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Pattaya Daily News

07 September 2011 :: 12:09:15 pm 58044

Texas wildfires claim two more lives, 700 homes

The death toll from dozens of wildfires that destroyed more than 700 Texas homes in just three days rose to four after crews discovered two bodies in the charred wreckage.
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“This is what we don’t like to see,” Bastrop county judge Ronnie McDonald said in announcing the latest two fatalities.

“I would encourage the community to continue to pray that we don’t have any more of those,” McDonald said, without identifying the victims.

Crews are continuing to battle wildfires raging uncontrollably amid a record drought that has turned Texas into a tinderbox.

More than 3.5 million acres (1.4 million hectares) — about the size of the state of Connecticut — have been burned by more than 18,700 blazes since the wildfire season began in December.

Most of those fires were in largely rural areas and fire crews had managed to save all but a few hundred houses.

That changed Sunday after stiff winds whipped up by a tropical storm battering the Gulf of Mexico fanned the flames and helped ignite fresh fires across the more densely populated central part of the state.

Thousands were forced from their homes by the smoke and rapidly spreading flames.

“We are under siege,” April Saginor, a spokeswoman for the Texas Forest Service, told AFP.

There will be little relief until the parched state sees at least two consecutive days of heavy rain, which has some people praying for a tropical storm or even a hurricane.

“What they say around here is we need rain with a name,” Saginor said.

The worst damage came from a massive blaze that engulfed much of Bastrop county, destroying nearly 600 homes and devouring 35,000 acres by Tuesday afternoon.

Texas Governor Rick Perry asked emergency officials to dispatch the state’s elite search and rescue team, Task Force 1, to the scene, his office said.

“Waiting is the most frustrating thing,” said Gina Thurman, 47, choking back tears as she sat by herself on a curb outside a shelter in Bastrop.

“You’re sitting there and you don’t know anything but your house is probably burning.”

Firefighters have responded to 181 blazes that have burned more than 118,000 acres in the past week, according to the latest situation report from the Texas Forest Service. Some 90,000 acres were still burning Tuesday.

The first two fatalities were reported in East Texas, where a fast-moving fire is believed to have killed a 20-year-old woman and her child who failed to get out of their trailer home in time Sunday.

Gregg County Sheriff Maxey Cerliano told reporters the victims were found dead near Gladewater, about 150 miles (240 kilometers) east of Fort Worth.

Six other people — including four firefighters — were killed by wildfires earlier this year, officials said.

The disaster forced Perry, considered the frontrunner in the Republican race for the White House, to cancel campaign events in South Carolina.

Perry’s campaign staff did not return a request for comment as to whether he would be attending what would be his first televised debate on Wednesday.

“This is one of the meanest fires I’ve ever seen,” Perry told reporters after an aerial tour of the homes destroyed near the state capitol of Austin early Tuesday.

“The magnitudes of these losses are pretty stunning.”

Reporter : AFP   Photo : AFP   Category : World News

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