Perry Deploys Task Force to Fight Texas Wildfires, Now 30 Percent Contained

Texas wildfire 30 percent contained, governor deploys team to search for victims

ByABC News
September 7, 2011, 9:16 AM

Sept. 7, 2011 -- An elite search team has been deployed to look for more victims of the Texas wildfires that have killed two people and forced thousands to evacuate, as stretched-thin firefighters continue to battle the still-moving blazes.

Under orders from Texas Gov. Rick Perry, the state's most elite search team, the 100-member Texas Task Force 1, will deploy today to help local authorities in the hardest-stricken area of Bastrop, about 25 miles from Austin.

The Bastrop County wildfire, which has destroyed more than 600 homes and blackened about 45 square miles, is the most severe of the more than 180 wildfires reported in the past week across drought-stricken Texas.

Texas Forest Service officials said today the fire in Barstrop is now about 30 percent contained.

Lighter winds and increased humidity have helped and that the weather conditions mean Wednesday "should be a good day for" those battling the wildfires, agency spokeswoman April Saginor said.

It was not until Tuesday that crews finally caught a break in battling the fires from winds pushed in by Tropical Storm Lee that whipped the blaze into an inferno over the weekend.

Texas Task Force 1, which includes a dozen search dogs, is the same elite team sent to New York following the Sept. 11 attacks and to New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

In Barstrop, the team will be tasked with navigating the wall of smoke and flames, 16 miles long and 4 miles wide, that has resulted in the evacuation of more than 5,000 people.

While officials blamed the Barstrop fire and others throughout the state on nature, officials in another Austin suburb, nearby Leander, are treating a wildfire that broke out there yesterday as arson.

Police in Leander are hunting three teenagers they suspect sparked a wildfire that caused $1.4 million in damage.

The blaze destroyed nearly a dozen homes and caused 500 residents of Leander to evacuate, according to residents and media reports.

The wildfire in Leander had been extinguished by Tuesday afternoon.

Widespread Damage

The fires across Texas over the past week have destroyed a total of more than 1,000 homes and caused four deaths, including the two at Bastrop. The statistics combine to make the fires one of the most devastating wildfire outbreaks in state history.

Hundreds of firefighters from around the country have descended upon Texas to fight the monster blaze, a fire so big it can be seen in satellite images from space.

Five heavy tanker planes, some provided by the federal government, and three aircraft capable of scooping 1,500 gallons of water at a time from lakes are also assisting firefighters in the fight.

White House spokesman Jay Carney said Tuesday the Obama administration has approved seven federal grants to help Texas with the latest wildfires.

"We're getting incredible support from all over the country, federal and state agencies," said Mark Stanford, operations director for the Texas Forest Service.

Perry's deployment of the state's elite search team came after he toured the Barstrop area by air on Tuesday, one day after pausing his campaign for the Republican presidential nomination to focus attention on the emergency at home. He cut short a campaign stop in South Carolina and returned to Texas on Monday.

His aides said today the governor does plan to participate in tonight's GOP presidential debate at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, Calif.