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Video: Progress made in fight against Texas blaze

  1. Closed captioning of: Progress made in fight against Texas blaze

    >>> and some progress to report over the night in the fight against one of the most destructive wildfires in texas history . firefighters in bastrop county say flames are at least 30% contained now after three days of uncontrolled burning. the fire has destroyed nearly 800 homes and left at least two people dead. more than 170 other fires have broken out in texas in the last week making this the state's costliest wildfire season on record.

msnbc.com news services
updated 9/8/2011 7:57:36 AM ET 2011-09-08T11:57:36

Firefighters gained ground Wednesday against one of the most destructive wildfires in Texas history even as the damage toll rose to 800 homes.

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An elite search team was sent out to find any victims as the blaze blackened about 45 square miles around Bastrop and cast a haze over the capital, Austin, about 25 miles to the east.

The air smelled strongly of pine and cedar.

The 34,000-acre Bastrop County Complex fire, which has forced the evacuation of about 5,000 people in the rural community, was about 30 percent contained Wednesday thanks to the easing of winds from Tropical Storm Lee, which fanned flames over the weekend.

"Even though the fuels are critically dry, the grass is dry and the relative humidity is still pretty low, they were able to take advantage of lower winds," said April Saginor, public information officer for the Texas Forest Service.

The fire is one of nearly 200 that broke out in the past week and killed four across Texas, where the countryside is perilously dry because of one of the most severe Texas droughts on record.

PhotoBlog: X marks the spot - charred crossroads near Bastrop

Texas Task Force 1, a search team that was sent to New York following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and to New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, set out in the Bastrop area, using dogs trained to sniff out bodies.

Mike Fisher, the Bastrop County Emergency Operations Agency's incident commander, said he didn't know if there were any more dead, but "if there are bodies out there, that team is going to find them."

Across the state, about 1,200 firefighters battled the blazes.

The outbreak has made this the state's costliest wildfire season on record, with $216 million in firefighting expenses since late 2010.

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24 miles long, 20 miles wide
Wildfires sweeping across drought-stricken state have destroyed a total of more than 1,000 homes in the last several days, including those in Bastrop.

The Bastrop fire, the largest current blaze, stretches 24 miles long and 20 miles wide at its widest point.

Video: Gov. Rick Perry: Wildfires have been ‘devastating’ (on this page)

Resident William Clements learned Tuesday that his home in Bastrop was lost. "It was kind of a shock when we came up and saw that it was gone," he said. "But we are recovering from the shock, and landing on our feet."

A list of 243 homes confirmed destroyed was posted for Bastrop residents to check at the county's shelters and in a command center, but it only accounted for a fraction of the houses officials say have been burned.

Resident Geary Garton, his arms covered with bandages and his nose and ears blistered, was cheerily hopeful as he approached the list looking for his house.

Garton said he'd left his home on foot to find a hose on Sunday night when the fires were coming. When he turned back to douse his home with water, fire was blocking him.

"It didn't look all that bad at first, but it came up quick," he said, adding that he had sprinted back through blinding smoke to reach his two dogs, the heat blistering his arms as he ran.

His dogs, Berkley and Clancy, were hiding under the porch, which was untouched by flames. But Garton was too weak to pick them up and had to leave them behind. He expressed hope that they had escaped and would turn up at a shelter.

Then he turned his attention to the list, reading the street names. When he got to K C Drive he stopped talking. He whipped off his glasses, turned on his heel, and wiped his eye as he strode away into the parking lot. He didn't answer questions about whether his home had survived.

Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, visiting the command center as Gov. Rick Perry was in California preparing for his first Republican presidential debate, said he would ask the federal government to declare the state a disaster area

.

Slideshow: Wildfires scorch Texas (on this page)

More than 3.6 million acres in Texas have been scorched by wildfires since November, fed by a drought that has caused more than $5 billion in damage to the state's agricultural industry and that shows no sign of easing.

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 1,500 gallons of lake water at a time also helped.

The disaster is blamed largely on Texas' yearlong drought, one of the most severe dry spells the state has ever seen.

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

Photos: Wildfires scorch Texas

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  1. Courtney Hughes sits in the car as her family decides where to spend the night as residents along Kickapoo Road evacuate Waller County, Texas, on Wednesday. (Mayra Beltran / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Fairchild, Texas, volunteer firefighter Dale Oberhoff gives his wife, Jackie, a kiss on the still smoldering ground after battling a grass fire near Needville, Texas, on Wednesday. (Patric Schneider / The Courier via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. A panoramic view taken by astronauts aboard the International Space Station shows wildfires burning in Texas on Wednesday. (Nasa / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Firefighters put out hot spots at a grass fire off Foster School Road near Needville, Texas, on Wednesday. (Patric Schneider / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. People walk near a vehicle at an intersection in the fire-ravaged area of Bastrop, Texas, on Wednesday. (William Luther / ASSOCIATED PRESS) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Montgomery, Texas, firefighter Reed Griffith crosses flames south of Todd Mission, Texas, on Wednesday. (Mayra Beltran / Houston Chronicle via P) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. An aerial view shows burned houses and trees Sept. 7, east of Bastrop, Texas. Several large wildfires have been devastating Bastrop County for the past three days, but are now 30 percent contained, according to the Texas Forest Service. (Erich Schlegel / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Gaye Jaco (back to camera) hugs stepdaughter Jennifer Leaver upon returning to their burned home on the east side of Lake Bastop on Tuesday, Sept. 6, outside Bastrop, Texas. Large large wildfires have been burning through Bastrop County for the past two days, and two people were reported dead Sept. 6. (Erich Schlegel / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. A burned-out house and cars are seen Sept. 6 near Magnolia. More than 1,000 homes have been destroyed in wildfires across rain-starved Texas, most of them in one devastating blaze near Austin that was still raging out of control. (Smiley N. Pool / Houston Chronical via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. A statue of a woman holding a water bucket stands in front of the remnants of a burned home on the east side of Lake Bastop on Sept. 6. (Erich Schlegel / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. Deborah Torkelson consoles her husband, Nathan, as they stand atop their destroyed home on Cardinal Loop in the Bastrop, Texas, Circle D Estates neighborhood on Sept. 6. (Jay Janner / Austin American-Statesman) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. A firefighting helicopter loads up with water from a pond at the Lost Pines Golf Club as they fight a fire in Bastrop State Park on Sept. 6. (Erich Schlegel / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. Ed Leighton looks through a box of papers Sept. 6 in what remains of his home that burned to the ground on Bluejay Road in Bastrop, Texas. (Jay Janner / Austin American-Statesman) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. Parts of a car melted in the Bastrop, Texas, Circle D Estates neighborhood on Sept. 6. (Jay Janner / Austin American-Statesman) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. Smoke from a wildfire hangs in the sky over Bastrop Sept. 6. Officials hoped that calmer winds would help firefighters battling wildfires that had destroyed about 1,000 homes in Texas and forced thousands of residents to flee. (Eric Gay / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. Massive plumes of smoke block the sky on Highway 71 east of Bastrop on Sept. 5.


    See more Austin American-Statesman photographic coverage of the wildfires.

    (Jay Janner / Austin American-Stateman) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. Chuck Tomlin uses a shovel to stop a fire in the back yard of a home in Bastrop's Tahitian Village neighborhood on Sept. 5. Tomlin volunteered to knock down flames that were just a few feet from the house of a neighbor he had never met.


    See more Austin American-Statesman photographic coverage of the wildfires.

    (Jay Janner / Austin American-Stateman) Back to slideshow navigation
  18. Ryan Joseph Terranova packs up his belongings moments before evacuating his home at the Tahitian Village Apartments in Bastrop as a huge fire approaches on Sept. 5.


    See more Austin American-Statesman photographic coverage of the wildfires.

    (Jay Janner / Austin American-Stateman) Back to slideshow navigation
  19. A plane drops fire retardant on a house in Bastrop's Tahitian Village neighborhood on Sept. 5.


    See more Austin American-Statesman photographic coverage of the wildfires.

    (Jay Janner / Austin American-Stateman) Back to slideshow navigation
  20. Yolanda Rodriguez, left, comforts neighbor Virginia Esquivel in front of Esquivel's gutted home on Bois D'Arc Lane in Cedar Park on Sept. 4. Two homes on the block were destroyed, and a third was damaged.


    See more Austin American-Statesman photographic coverage of the wildfires.

    (Jay Janner / Austin American-Stateman) Back to slideshow navigation
  21. Firefighters battle a large wildfire on Highway 71 near Smithville on Sept. 5. A roaring wildfire raced unchecked through rain-starved farm and ranchland in Texas, during a rapid advance fanned in part by howling winds from the remnants of Tropical Storm Lee. (Erich Schlegel / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  22. The chimney of a house remains standing as the rest of the building burns to the ground near Bastrop on Sept. 5. (Mike Stone / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  23. Students from a local 4-H group drop off bottled water for firefighters and displaced residents at Magnolia High School where residents evacuated from their homes near a 300-acre wildfire gathered on Sept. 5. Nearly 8,000 residents in the Magnolia area were evacuated from their homes. (Eric S. Swist / The Courier via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  24. Clarence Hoffman, left, and his son, Allen Hoffman, battle ground flames as they try to prevent the fire from advancing to the home of Patrick McAlister near Bastrop on Sept. 5. (Mike Stone / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  25. J Cindy Cruz wipes tears from her eyes as Texas Gov. Rick Perry talks with her at Bastrop Middle School in Bastrop on Sept. 5. (Alberto Martìnez / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  26. Residents evacuate their animals as a wildfire threatens the area near Sleepy Hollow Road and Post Oak Drive in Conroe, Texas, on Sept. 5. (Karl Anderson / The Courier via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  27. A wildfire burns out of control in Bastrop State Park near Bastrop on Sept. 5. (Larry W. Smith / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  28. A large plume of smoke rises from a wildfire as onlookers watch from a hill on Sept. 5, in Bastrop. (Eric Gay / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  29. Particia Bloodworth-Neville and her daughter Bailey Neville, 12, watch from Bluebonnet Volunteer Fire Station as a wildfire consumes land around their central Texas home on Sept. 5 in Bastrop. (Trent Lesikar / The Daily Texan via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  30. Lone Camp Volunteer Fire Department firefighter Joe Crawford fights a wildfire on Sept. 1 in Graford, Texas. (Tom Pennington / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  31. Mike Hester holds a cat he rescued from an area destroyed by a wildfire at Possum Kingdom Lake on Aug. 31. (LM Otero / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  32. An air tanker drops fire retardant on a hot spot at Possum Kingdom Lake on Aug. 31 after a wildfire swept through the area. (LM Otero / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  33. Palo Pinto County Sheriff Ira Mercer looks over an area destroyed by a wildfire at Possum Kingdom Lake, Texas, on Wednesday, Aug. 31. The wildfire swept through the neighborhood Tuesday, Aug. 30, destroying 25 homes and turning the normally lush landscape into a blackened mess. (LM Otero / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  34. Eric Kemper holds a cup which reads 'It's a girl' as he looks through the debris of his home after it was destroyed by fire as wildfires burn out of control near Bastrop, Texas September 6, 2011. Wildfires sweeping across drought-stricken Texas have destroyed more than 1,000 homes and forced thousands of evacuations in the past several days, officials said. The worst of the fires, the Bastrop County Complex fire located about 30 miles/48 km southeast of Austin in the central part of the state, has destroyed up to 600 homes, the most of any single fire in Texas history. REUTERS/Mike Stone (UNITED STATES - Tags: ENVIRONMENT DISASTER) (Mike Stone / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
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