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Tuesday
Sep062011

Texas Wildfires: 852 Homes Lost in 48 Hours

Erich Schlegel/Getty Images(AUSTIN, Texas) -- In the last 48 hours, 852 homes have been consumed in the flames of Texas wildfires as dozens of blazes continue to sear the drought-plagued state, according to the Texas Forest Service.

Officials say more than 1,000 homes have been destroyed and over 115,000 acres have burned in the past seven days.

The largest wildfire is raging just east of Austin and has burned at least 600 homes and blackened 30,000 acres.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry set aside his campaign for the Republican presidential nomination to focus attention on the emergency at home. He cut short a campaign stop in South Carolina and returned to Texas on Monday. He says his participation in Wednesday's debate in California is a "fluid situation."

"I'll be real honest with you, I'm not paying any attention to politics right now," Perry said. "There's plenty of time to take care of that. People's lives and their possessions are in danger. That's substantially more important."

The wall of smoke and flames, 16 miles long and four miles wide, has resulted in the evacuation of more than 5,000 people. Five shelters have been set up across the affected area.

The massive wildfire began Sunday afternoon in Bastrop County and is zero percent contained. Texas Forest Service spokeswoman Victoria Koenig said that they expect the wind that has been fueling the flames to die down today, but that it is still a "tough, tough fire."

The emergency is not limited to the one fire about 30 miles east of Austin. Roughly 35 other fires are actively burning across this drought-stricken state.

Many Texans prayed Tropical Storm Lee would bring rain, but instead only gusty winds made Texas' most active fire season ever that much worse. The state is experiencing its worst drought since the 1950s.

In the past nine months, Texas has experienced six of the 10 largest wildfires in its history, and since November 3,523 homes and structures have been lost to the flames, according to the Texas Forest Service. In that time there have been 20,906 fires that have scorched more than 3.5 million acres, accounting for 49 percent of all acres burned in the U.S.

Of Texas' 254 counties, 251 of them are under outdoor burn bans and many residents were forced to flee quickly with the fire right on their doorstep.

One of the homes that has been destroyed belongs to Dan Hugo, a veteran who returned from war less than a month ago. He came home to find his house in ruins. He and his family, along with hundreds of others, spent most of Labor Day housed in a shelter.

Tanya Henson, another evacuee, says that not knowing what is going to happen to her is the worst aspect of the emergency.

"It's just nerve-wracking, 'cause we don't know if we got a home to go home to or not," Henson told ABC News.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

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