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Low Winds Help Crews Contain Central Texas Blaze

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BASTROP (AP) - Firefighters continued making progress containing a small fire just a month after the state’s most destructive wildfire hit the same Central Texas county, officials said Wednesday.

The 320-acre fire north of Bastrop was 50 percent contained, said Texas Forest Service spokesman John Nichols. Lower winds and cooler temperatures, as well as air resources, helped firefighters “get a handle” on the blaze quickly, he said.

Officials initially estimated the fire at 1,000 acres after it broke out Tuesday afternoon, but revised the total after doing more specific calculations on the ground, Nichols said. A cause has not yet been determined for the fire northwest of the massive Labor Day weekend blaze, he said.

While 28 homes were evacuated, the fire has not burned any houses, and none are in danger, Nichols said. Residents will not be allowed to return home until Thursday at the earliest, he said.

Although the blaze did not get close to any houses, Bastrop County officials decided to order evacuations early in case the fire spread as quickly as the Sept. 4 blaze, Nichols said. That fire burned out of control for several days amid high winds, blackened more than 50 square miles, destroyed more than 1,500 homes and left two people dead.

“These people have been through enough already, and we didn’t want to have them in that area in case anything bad happened,” Nichols said, referring to homeowners in the area of Tuesday’s fire. “Luckily, that wasn’t the case.”

Kirk Obst told the Austin American-Statesman that he and his neighbors have been alerting the fire department any time they suspect a fire, even if it means “crying wolf.”

“We’re always on the alert since the last fire,” Obst, who had to evacuate Tuesday, told the newspaper.

As of last week, Bastrop County residents and business owners had filed 1,500 insurance claims, with an estimate of $250 million in insured losses, according to the Insurance Council of Texas.

A Texas Forest Service investigation into the Sept. 4 fire near Bastrop, about 25 miles east of Austin, determined that the blaze started after wind gusts caused limbs and a dead tree to topple onto power lines.

Several residents have filed a lawsuit against Bluebonnet Electric Cooperative, but the utility has said the fire was a “terrible incident” beyond its control.

Historic drought conditions in Texas have led to a rash of wildfires scorching some 6,000 square miles and destroying more than 2,700 homes since the fire season started nearly a year ago.

(© Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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