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Texas Wildfires: 'Move So Fast, They Kill'

Firefighters at a blaze on Highway 71 near Smithville, Texas, on Monday.
Firefighters at a blaze on Highway 71 near Smithville, Texas, on Monday.

Update at 7:40 p.m. ET.The Associated Press is reporting that the wildfires have killed at least four people, including two near Austin.

Update at 1:15 p.m. ET.As we continue to follow news about the devastating wildfires in Texas, here's the latest from The Associated Press:

"More than 1,000 homes have been destroyed in at least 57 wildfires across rain-starved Texas, most of them in one devastating blaze close to Austin that is still raging out of control, officials said Tuesday. ...

"The Texas Forest Service says nearly 600 of the torched homes were in Bastrop County, some 25 miles from Austin, the state capital. The agency said that blaze was still uncontained Tuesday. It was the most destructive fire of the year for a state that has had more than 3 million acres burned, said state emergency management chief Nim Kidd."

Austin's American-Statesmanadds that "winds are expected to be lighter today, but low humidity could help flames spread quickly, forecasters say. There is no chance of rain."

Update at 10:15 a.m. ET: Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) said this morning that more than 1,000 homes have now been destroyed by the wildfires ravaging his state.

Our original post:

Raging wildfires continue to burn across central Texas and so far have destroyed about 500 homes, Austin's American-Statesmanwrites this morning.

The newspaper adds that "the scope of the disaster — perhaps the worst of its kind in the region's history — was not fully known by late Monday as officials struggled to provide a complete count of the number of lost structures."

On Morning Edition today, NPR's Wade Goodwyn reported that unlike relatively slow-moving wildfires that hit the area in April, the most recent blazes "move so fast they kill. ... In northeast Texas, a young mother and her 18-month-old child were burned to death when they were trapped inside their mobile home."

Wade added that "there are so many big fires — 23 and counting — there are simply not enough firefighters and aircraft to go around."

One potentially hopeful note: The Associated Press says that "slack winds were expected after midnight Tuesday," and that might give firefighters a chance to make some progress battling the blazes.

But the wire service also writes that "at least 5,000 people were forced from their homes in Bastrop County about 25 miles east of Austin, and about 400 were in emergency shelters, officials said Monday. School and school-related activities were canceled Tuesday."

While over the weekend tropical storm Lee drenched Louisiana and states to the east and north, it actually made things worse in the "rain-starved farm and ranchland in central Texas," the Dallas Morning Newsreports. Monday, the flames were "fanned in part by howling winds" from Lee's remnants.

Rick Blakely, 54, told the News that when he gets back to his home in Bastrop County, "I'm not expecting anything to be standing."

"There was someone who asked how I was, and it's a state of shock," he said. "I just don't know what I'm going to do."

Gov. Rick Perry, now a candidate for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination, plans to "seek a major disaster declaration from the federal government," the Statesmanwrites.

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