Tropical Storm Lee's winds stoke Texas wildfires

Mon Sep 5, 2011 2:27am GMT
 

(Updates with homes threatened, evacuations in Central Texas)

By Jim Forsyth

SAN ANTONIO, Sept 4 (Reuters) - Strong, gusty winds caused by Tropical Storm Lee whipped up the wildfires that have burned in the parched state of Texas this season, threatening some 1,000 homes east of Austin on Sunday night, officials said.

A 14,000-acre (5,700-hectare) burned out of control in Bastrop County, causing evacuations. In neighboring Travis County, fires caused evacuations and burned homes in neighborhoods north and west of Austin, the state capital.

The fires caused officials in Austin to ask local media for help in contacting every available firefighter in the area to help with the blazes.

"We're a little on edge right now," Texas Forest Service spokesman Tom Berglund told Reuters. "We have several fires that we thought we had put out, but these winds came up today and started them up again."

Tropical Storm Lee has drenched New Orleans and is expected to bring flooding to a large swath of the U.S. Southeast. [ID:nN1E78301H] But most Texans are going to have to wait a little longer to see the end of a drought that has caused more than $5 billion in economic losses.

But the wind was causing problems for firefighters battling a dozen brush and grass fires across the state.

Berglund said that in addition to feeding the fires, the winds were also drying out any humidity brought in by the tropical storm, prompting officials to issue a "critical fire danger" alert for the eastern two-thirds of Texas.

"The fire danger we are experiencing poses a severe threat to lives and property," said Texas Forest Service Assistant Director Mark Stanford. "This, along with the outdoor activities due to the holiday weekend, will increase the probability for the development of huge and destructive brush fires."

August was the hottest single month ever recorded in the state, capping what climatologists say could be the hottest summer on record in the United States. Most areas of Texas have seen little respite from daily highs over 100 degrees F (38 C) since mid-July. (Editing by Greg McCune and Peter Cooney)

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