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Fires burn wild across Texas as NE U.S. floods

posted on September 9, 2011

Fires burn wild across Texas as NE U.S. floods

Wildfires raged through tinder dry Texas this week, blackening more than 30,000 acres in the process.

The biggest area of destruction was an area east of Austin in Bastrop County, where roughly 45 square miles have burned.

The fires, fed by stiff winds, extreme drought and high temperatures are far from contained.

Mike Fisher, Bastrop County, TX emergency management coordinator: “We're making pretty good progress on getting around the perimeter. We're hoping by -- that, at the end of shift today, that we can say that we're comfortable and the fire is not going to get any larger.”  

More than 170 fires were confirmed in Texas over the past week, in one the most devastating outbreaks in state history. The blazes destroyed 1,400 homes and are blamed for a handful of fatalities.

Mitzi Carrara, evacuee: “It's tough to think about what we're going to see and if we see anything. Is it going to be -- from the news we have seen, you know, it could be just a foundation with a bunch of debris over it.”

Fire fighters have been battling the flames since late 2010 and the bill is approaching $216 million dollars and climbing. In 2011 alone, nearly 19,000 fires have scorched over 3.5 million acres.

This week’s drought monitor shows some improvement in southern Mississippi and Alabama. But, the majority of Texas, Oklahoma and eastern New Mexico are in ‘exceptional drought’.  

Texas has been hardest hit by the persistent drought, which is now the longest on record. 95.68 percent of the state is in the ‘exceptional’ category.

More than 95 percent of the state’s pasture and rangelands are rated poor or very poor, leaving little for remaining livestock. Texas officials peg damages to agriculture alone at more than $5 billion.

Some fires have changed direction, allowing crews to set controlled burns to slow the growth and, hopefully, gain some control in the battle.   

Hopes for Hurricane Lee to provide some relief in the form of rainfall, evaporated and were blown away by wind that only fanned the fires.

Two hurricanes have two-stepped around the Lone Star State, dumping rain through the Deep South all the way to the Northeast.

Now classified as a Tropical Storm, Lee is forcing thousands from their homes as 4 to 7 inches more of rain could fall on parts of Pennsylvania, New York and Connecticut.

Gov. Tom Corbett, R-Pa.: “Some of the flood gauges that we use out there cannot give us reliable data now because they're so far underwater. We face a clear public health emergency, because sewage treatment plants, such as the one near Hershey, are underwater and no longer working. As you know, floodwater is toxic. It is polluted. And if the sewage treatment plants aren't working, they're going to be polluted. If you don't have to be in the water, stay out of the water.”

Thomas Leighton: Mayor of Wilkes-Barre, PA “We told the people, you know, plan on being out of their home for 72 hours. This was not going to be a 12- or 24-hour evacuation. We have to make sure once the river starts to recede that it's going to stay within the banks. In the city of Wilkes-Barre, we have four creeks that run through the city. The one in south Wilkes-Barre is the one that we're really concerned about. That's the Solomon Creek. And this will be the third time in the last two weeks that we have had to evacuate the people from south Wilkes-Barre. So we want to make sure that before we put the people back in the comfort of their home, that they are out of harm's away.”

Tags: agriculture drought hurricanes news Pennsylvania Texas weather wildfires