Wildfire near Austin, Texas, destroys 300 homes - CBS News 8 - San Diego, CA News Station - KFMB Channel 8

Wildfire near Austin, Texas, destroys 300 homes

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A helicopter dumps water on a fire in Steiner Ranch, west of Austin, Texas, on Sunday Sept. 4, 2011. (AP Photo/Austin American-Statesman, Jay Janner) A helicopter dumps water on a fire in Steiner Ranch, west of Austin, Texas, on Sunday Sept. 4, 2011. (AP Photo/Austin American-Statesman, Jay Janner)

BASTROP, Texas (AP) -- Authorities say a wildfire burning southeast of Austin, Texas, has destroyed about 300 homes and is advancing unchecked through parched ranchland along a 16-mile front.

Texas Forest Service spokeswoman Jan Amen said Monday that firefighters have been unable to begin containing the blaze in Bastrop County. The forest service says the fire has destroyed as many as 300 homes scorched more than 17,500 acres.

The fire is roughly 30 miles from Austin and is moving away from the city.

KVUE-TV in Austin reports that nearly half of the 6,000-acre Bastrop State Park has burned.

It is one of several wildfires crews are battling throughout the drought-stricken state. A fast-moving East Texas blaze that killed a woman and her 18-month-daughter in the community of Gladewater on Sunday has been extinguished.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP's earlier story is below.

A longtime Texas sheriff says it was the fastest-moving fire he has ever seen. Six homes were toppled within minutes, including one trailer where a woman and her 18-month-old daughter were killed because they couldn't escape in time.

Authorities said the fires, including the one that killed the two people Sunday near the East Texas community of Gladewater, were propelled partly by the high winds caused by Tropical Storm Lee. Neighborhoods across eastern and central parts of the state were reporting widespread damage covering thousands of acres.

"The houses that were in its path on this particular roadway were taken out," Gregg County Sheriff Maxey Cerliano said. "There were many other houses that the fire got right up to the porch."

The 20-year-old woman and her child were found dead near the bathroom of their trailer home just outside Gladewater, about 120 miles east of Dallas and 60 miles west of Shreveport, La. A male occupant of the home sustained minor burns but was able to escape, and he frantically searched for the others, Cerliano said.

Texas Forest Service officials estimated some 1,400 acres were burned in that area alone, destroying homes, barns and vehicles, and thousands of other acres were scorched in other parts of the state.

"We've completely depleted our resources," Melanie Spradling, a public information officer with the Texas Forestry Service, told the Tyler Morning Telegraph. "We're on every fire we can possibly handle and then some."

Cerliano said a church, numerous other homes and parts of a cemetery were also destroyed.

Authorities said the fires were lingering in part because a cold front was passing through and Tropical Storm Lee had whipped up winds, in places measured as high as 40 mph.

"With as hot and dry as the summer was, all that does is fuel the fires," National Weather Service Meteorologist Matt Hemingway said. "Right now, the chance for any rainfall from the tropical storm is basically nil."

The National Weather Service said South, Central and East Texas were all under "red flag" warnings for critical fire conditions until late Sunday night.

In Central Texas, the wildfire threat was so dire near Austin that the fire department issued a public appeal asking any and all area firefighters to report for duty.

Wildfires scorched more than 6,000 acres in Bastrop County, just southeast of Austin. Bastrop police spokesman Michal Hubbard told the Austin American-Statesman that hundreds of homes were evacuated in the vicinity of the county seat and several structures were lost.

A wildfire in the Austin suburb of Cedar Park destroyed two homes and damaged two others Sunday. Wildfires also prompted evacuations of other neighborhoods in Cedar Park and some in some suburbs.

In Corsicana, about 50 miles south of Dallas, a wildfire destroyed eight metal industrial shop buildings. Mayor Chuck McClanahan said fire crews were fighting to keep the flames from reaching wooden structures.

Eight miles south of Corsicana, the roughly 200 residents of Navarro and those living in a rural area outside of town fled for safety because of three separate blazes that had burned some 2,000 acres, Navarro County Judge H.M. Davenport said.

Ronnie Willis, who owns a pasture just east of the Corsicana fire, said embers from the industrial park blaze burned his field and he could only watch as the flames advanced toward two massive indoor arenas he owns.

"My prayer is it doesn't burn up the buildings," he told the Corsicana Daily Sun. "The grass will grow back. If it doesn't hurt an animal or burn up the buildings, we can live through it. I just feel sorry for the people whose businesses are being destroyed."

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press.

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