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Tuesday
Sep062011

Texas Wildfires Rage, Gov. Rick Perry Returns to State

Tom Pennington/Getty Images(BASTROP, Texas) -- The Texas wildfires raging just east of Austin have burned at least 500 homes, scorched thousands of acres and claimed at least two lives.

Dozens of fires, fueled by high winds and drought conditions, have led to a wall of smoke and flames 16 miles long and four miles wide.  More than 5,000 people have been forced to evacuate their homes, and five shelters have been set up across the affected area.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry set aside his campaign for the Republican presidential nomination to focus attention on the troubles facing the Lone Star State.  He cut short a campaign stop in South Carolina to return to Texas on Monday.

"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."

"I have seen a number of big fires in my life ... this one is as mean looking as I've ever seen," he added.

The massive wildfire began Sunday afternoon in Bastrop County and has so far blackened more than 14,000 acres.

U.S. Forest Service official Mike Ferris said that weather patterns are to blame for Bastrop County's raging fires.

"The weather [Monday] is at its worst.  We had a red flag warning issued this morning for strong gusty winds from anywhere from 15 to 30 mile per hour, in addition to reduced or lowered humidities," he said.

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 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.

Since Sunday, 251 of Texas' 254 counties were under outdoor burn bans.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

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