The death toll from one of the most devastating wildfire outbreaks in Texas history has risen to four with more than 1,200 firefighters struggling against the flames.
According to officials, more than 180 fires throughout Central Texas, fueled by the powerful winds of Tropical Storm Lee over the weekend, have burned over 118,400 acres, destroyed more than 1,000 homes, and forced the evacuation of countless others.
The devastating disaster is blamed largely on Texas’ yearlong drought, one of the most severe dry spells the state has ever seen.
“Texas is in a difficult situation right now, and our priorities are pretty simple. No. 1 is to protect life at all costs,” said Nim Kidd, chief of the state Division of Emergency Management.
While winds that had peaked at nearly 30mph seemed to calm a bit on Tuesday, the Texas Forest Service made it clear that they were still no where near completely containing the massive blaze.
Governor Rick Perry, who cut short a presidential campaign trip to South Carolina yesterday to return to help oversee firefighting efforts in Texas, echoed those feelings at a news conference, saying that firefighters still had “a long way to go to contain this thing.”
“It was a surreal experience,” Perry said after touring the fire area in Bastrop, located about 30 miles southeast of Austin. “I have seen a number of big fires in my life. This one is as mean-looking as I ever seen because it is so close to the city.”
A White House spokesman said the Obama administration has approved seven federal grants to Texas to help with the latest outbreak, adding that the they would “continue to work closely with the state and local emergency management officials as their efforts to contain these wildfires.”
So far in 2011, 7.2 million acres of grass, scrub and forest have burned in wildfires nationwide. Of those, some 3.5 million acres — nearly half — have been in Texas, according to Inciweb, a fire-tracking website maintained by state and federal agencies.
Tuesday marked the 294th consecutive day of Texas wildfires, according to Inciweb.