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Wednesday
Sep072011

Task Force Deployed to Fight Texas Wildfires

Tom Pennington/Getty Images(BASTROP, Texas) -- An elite search team has been deployed to look for more victims of the Texas wildfires that have killed two people and forced thousands to evacuate, as stretched-thin firefighters continue to battle the still-moving blazes.

Under orders from Texas Gov. Rick Perry, the state's most elite search team -- the 100-member Texas Task Force 1 -- will deploy on Wednesday to help local authorities in the hardest-stricken area of Bastrop, about 25 miles from Austin.

The Bastrop County wildfire, which has destroyed more than 600 homes and blackened about 45 square miles, is the most severe of the more than 180 wildfires reported in the past week across drought-stricken Texas.

Texas Forest Service officials said on Wednesday that the fire in Bastrop is now about 30 percent contained.

Lighter winds and increased humidity have helped and the weather conditions mean Wednesday "should be a good day for" those battling the wildfires, agency spokeswoman April Saginor said.

It was not until Tuesday that crews finally caught a break in battling the fires from winds pushed in by Tropical Storm Lee that whipped the blaze into an inferno over the weekend.

Texas Task Force 1, which includes a dozen search dogs, is the same elite team sent to New York following the Sept. 11 attacks and to New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

In Bastrop, the team will be tasked with navigating the wall of smoke and flames, 16 miles long and four miles wide, that has resulted in the evacuation of more than 5,000 people.

While officials blamed the Bastrop fire and others throughout the state on nature, officials in another Austin suburb -- nearby Leander -- are treating a wildfire that broke out there Tuesday as arson.

Police in Leander are hunting three teenagers they suspect sparked a wildfire that caused over a million dollars in damage.  The blaze destroyed nearly a dozen homes and caused 500 residents of Leander to evacuate, according to residents and media reports.

The wildfire in Leander had been extinguished by Tuesday afternoon.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

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