Wildfires erupt again in parts of parched Texas

September 4, 2011 - 9:55 PM

DALLAS (AP) — Wildfires continued to spread Sunday across East and Central Texas due partly to high winds caused by Tropical Storm Lee and the passage of a cool front, authorities said.

Local and state firefighting crews scrambled to contain the blazes, which have destroyed homes and forced evacuations in the parched sections of Texas. Winds were from the north to northeast at 20 to 30 mph with gusts to 40 mph and relative humidity at 20 to 30 percent.

The National Weather Service said South, Central and East Texas were all under "red flag" warnings for critical fire conditions until late Sunday night. No injuries were reported.

The wildfire threat became so dire in the Austin area of Central Texas that the Austin Fire Department issued a public appeal for any and all available firefighters in the area 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 the nearby Austin suburbs of Pflugerville, Bastrop and near Briarcliff.

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

Navarro County Judge H.M. Davenport said three wildfires had spread to a total of 2,000 acres and prompted an evacuation of Navarro, a town of about 200 residents about eight miles southeast of Corsicana, and a sparsely settled rural area close to the nearby town of Mildred.

Ronnie Willis owns a pasture just east of the Corsicana fire. Embers from the industrial park fire burned his field, and Willis could only watch as the fires leaped across his pastures toward his two massive indoor arenas.

"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."

Rural neighborhoods in the East Texas counties of Smith, Van Zandt, Gregg and Houston also were evacuated because of scattered, fast-moving wildfires in those areas. There were no immediate reports of home losses.