Hundreds of homes destroyed as fires ravage Texas

The fires have been fanned by winds from a tropical depression that hit the southern United States over the weekend and have flared across ground left tinder dry by a summer drought, killing at least two persons.

The worst blaze was reportedly six miles (10 kilometres) wide and 16 miles long, prompting mass evacuations as weather forecasts suggested the situation would get worse before it gets better.

"There will be more flare-ups with the cool air," a spokeswoman for the Texas Forest Service (TFS) said yesterday, referring to a predicted drop in temperatures later this week.

Over the weekend, firefighters responded to 63 blazes that have burned approximately 32,936 acres, according to local officials. Texas Governor Rick Perry, a Republican White House hopeful who had been campaigning in South Carolina ahead of a major debate tomorrow, flew home as television pictures showed smoke and flames engulfing his state.

"We will pick up the pieces, we will rebuild," he told reporters shortly after arriving back in Texas, having earlier described the wildfire situation as "severe," and pledged resources to protect lives and property.

"I urge Texans to take extreme caution as we continue to see the devastating effects of sweeping wildfires impacting both rural and urban areas of the state," the governor added in a statement on his website.

Officials have ruled out arson as the cause of the fires and instead blame Tropical Depression Lee, which was graded as a more serious tropical storm when it came ashore in southern Louisiana early Sunday. In Bastrop county, scene of the biggest Texas fire, officials said at least 500 homes had already been destroyed, a state record for a single fire.

"We're not fighting this fire at this point. We're just evacuating people," assistant fire chief Rod Stradling told local media. Mark Stanford, the TFS fire chief, described the fires as "catastrophic."

"It's a major natural disaster," he told The Austin American-Statesman newspaper, as new fires hit a huge swath of central Texas. A TFS official told Fox News that the situation was "unprecedented."

"These fires are moving extremely fast. Citizens need to go at the first sign of smoke or flame," Justice Jones said.

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