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SMITHVILLE (CBSDFW.COM/AP) — As firefighters from across the state head to Central Texas to help battle wildfires, Governor Greg Abbott has declared a state of disaster in Bastrop County and has authorized the mobilization of state resources to help communities in the area.
Governor Abbott said one of the biggest challenges facing firefighters in Bastrop are the shifting winds that have pushed the blaze in different directions.
Wildfires that have burned more than six square miles in Central Texas and imperiled hundreds of homes threatened to grow Thursday in parched forestland that is still recovering from massive deadly blazes in 2011.
Firetrucks raced past blackened trees still standing from the Bastrop County fires four years ago. Residents whose houses narrowly escaped destruction in 2011 pleaded with police at barricades for information about their homes’ fates this time, but sulked back to their cars with no answers.
“I’m not too happy right now. I want to know if my house is on fire,” said Mike Waterman, 35, returning to his Jeep loaded with his wife, three dogs, two cats and a gerbil, all of whom left their house Tuesday. “I’m getting no information.”
The fire near the rural ranching town of Smithville was 15 percent contained, but state officials warned residents that it could expand. It had been 50 percent contained a day earlier, before abruptly quadrupling in size.
Bastrop County officials said residents of about 400 homes have been advised to evacuate since the fire began Tuesday. The cause of the blaze is unknown.
A wildfire in the same county in 2011 destroyed at more than 1,500 homes and left two people dead. The smoke was so thick during that emergency that it caused breathing problems as far north as Waxahachie.
Officials said that although the winds Thursday raised potential for the fire to spread, the gusts were heading in the opposite direction of the county’s most populated areas.
About 400 homes and businesses were without power and Buescher State Park will be closed through Sunday due to the fire threat.
“There will be victory. It may be a day or two, it may be longer depending on the weather, but we will win this,” Bastrop County Judge Paul Pape said. “We’ve done this before. We know what we’re doing. It just takes time.”
Forest Service officials say three other wildfires continued burning in Texas Thursday, with 400 acres blackened in Taylor County, 350 acres burned in Ellis County and 1,000 acres scorched in Menard County.
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