One of the most destructive wildfires in Texas history is slowing down after torching hundreds of homes, but stretched-thin firefighting crews have yet to gain any control of the blaze that is still plowing across rain-starved grasslands.
The fire in Bastrop County is the most devastating wildfire in Texas in more than a decade, but it is just one of more than 180 fires that have erupted in the past week across Texas. The wildfires are blamed largely on Texas' yearlong drought, one of the most severe dry spells the state has ever seen.
The fires are confronting Gov. Rick Perry with a major disaster at home just as the Republican presidential nomination contest, in which he is a leading contender, heats up elsewhere in the United States.
The Texas fires have destroyed more than 1,000 homes, caused four deaths and pulled the state's firefighting ranks to the limit.
Crews finally got a reprieve Tuesday from winds pushed in by Tropical Storm Lee, which whipped the blaze into an inferno over the weekend. Increased humidity was moving in overnight, and officials expected some containment Wednesday morning, Texas Forest Service spokesman John Nichols said.
"Tonight should be a good night, tomorrow should be a good day — we hope," Nichols said. "The reason why it hasn't been able to be contained is the wind."
Perry cut short a high-profile presidential campaign trip to South Carolina to deal with the crisis, and on Tuesday toured a blackened area near Bastrop, about 40 kilometres from Austin. He later deployed Texas Task Force 1, the same search team sent to New York following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and to New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.
"Pretty powerful visuals of individuals who lost everything," Perry said. "The magnitude of these losses are pretty stunning."
The conservative Republican who constantly criticizes federal government spending still said he expects federal assistance with the wildfires but complained that red tape was keeping available bulldozers and other heavy equipment stuck at the Army's Fort Hood base, about 120 kilometres from Bastrop. The post was fighting its own 1,500-hectare blaze.
Federal grants help Texas
White House spokesman Jay Carney said the Obama administration has approved seven federal grants to help Texas with the latest wildfires.
About 1,200 firefighters battled the blazes, including crews from as far away as California and Oregon. Five heavy tanker planes, some from the federal government, and three aircraft capable of scooping lake water also helped.
In Southern California, a massive blaze still threatened hundreds of homes, burning about 150 kilometres north of Los Angeles. Over 1,250 workers have been deployed to fight it.
The fire, which has blackened more than 5,269 hectares, started Sunday near the town of Tehachapi when a single-engine Cessna crashed into a remote area, killing two people on board. Since then, 12 homes and 18 buildings have been destroyed and two firefighters have been injured.
About 650 homes were destroyed and 200 buildings were under evacuation orders, and officials said the fire is 40 per cent contained.