September 12, 2011 in Nation/World

Biggest Texas fire levels 1,554 homes

Will Weissert Associated Press
Associated Press photo

Ranch Crest resident Beverly Nichols, 72, returns to the remains of her home in Magnolia, Texas, on Sunday. More than 190 fires statewide have killed at least four.
(Full-size photo)

BASTROP, Texas – Drawn to the quaint Central Texas town of Bastrop by the promise of life in a quiet, wooded area, Frank Davis moved into his new home two Saturdays ago. The next day, he and his wife evacuated when a monster wildfire moved in.

Now, there’s nothing left.

“The fire was so hot, there are even panes of glass that melted,” said Davis, a 47-year-old home remodeler who came to Bastrop from Austin, about 30 miles away. “It’s all gone.”

The number of homes destroyed by a still-raging wildfire here rose on Sunday to 1,554 and will increase further as emergency crews enter areas where the blaze has been extinguished. Seventeen people remain unaccounted for, but officials believe they could simply be out of town.

Bastrop County officials joined by Democratic U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett sought to provide new information to hundreds of residents evacuated a week ago, when blustering wind whipped up by Tropical Storm Lee swept across parched, drought-stricken Texas – helping to spark more than 190 wildfires statewide that killed four people.

The worst of the fires is the one in Bastrop that has consumed more than 34,000 acres.

Crews have now contained more than 50 percent of the blaze, paving the way for people to begin returning home and trying to rebuild their lives from the remains of the smoldering rubble.

For Davis, a first-time homebuyer who paid cash and moved in without insurance, that means living in a mobile home on his charred property while he rebuilds. In the meantime, he and his wife are staying with relatives.

Davis saw his property when a sympathetic police officer let him slip into an otherwise inaccessible area so he could catch a glimpse of his land.

Others who were forced to evacuate have not yet had that opportunity. Many still don’t know what became of their homes.

Beginning today, county officials will begin allowing them to slowly re-enter scorched areas as authorities ensure the land has properly cooled and hotspots are extinguished.

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