Texas Governor Rick Perry has requested a Major Disaster Declaration for the entire state, as brush fires which have burned more than 1.5 million acres continued on Monday. The fires have been whipped by 60-mile-an-hour wind gusts and fueled by brush dried out by record low humidity. “Texas is reaching its capacity to respond to these emergencies and is in need of federal assistance,” Perry said in a statement on Monday.
“I urge President (Barack) Obama to approve our request quickly so Texans can continue receiving the resources and support they need as wildfires remain an ongoing threat.”So far a total of 7,800 separate fires have destroyed 244 homes, including 10 in southwest Austin on Sunday in what is being called the Pinnacle Fire. “We’ve got real strong winds, real dry air, real low humidities. Couple all that with dry fuels, which we have a lot of, and the fires are running pretty hard,” Marq Webb of the Texas Forest Service said on Monday.
In Austin, Fire Department spokeswoman Michelle DeCrane said on Monday that a 60-year-old man, Michael Weathers, has been charged with arson in connection with the Pinnacle Fire and is being held on $50,000 bond. An arrest affidavit says Weathers had started a cooking fire along US Highway 290 West, which caused the 100 acre Pinnacle fire. When he was arrested, Weathers had singed hair, eyebrows and sideburns, and admitted leaving the campfire unattended with the coals still hot. In addition to the 10 homes destroyed in Austin, six suffered minor damage, and one Austin firefighter was injured. Some 200 people were evacuated, but officials hope to have them back in their homes by Monday afternoon.
“The dry conditions and drought we have been suffering make our area ripe for extreme fire danger,” Austin Fire Chief Rhoda Mae Kerr said on Monday. “What we saw yesterday in southwest Austin is something we have been talking about for years in Austin with the wild-land urban interface. Our city has spectacular topography and scenery that homeowners want to take advantage of, but butting homes adjacent to the rural wild land requires extra vigilance to ensure we don’t have a repeat of yesterday’s fire.”
The Forest Service’s Webb said brush fires were burning in literally every portion of Texas.
“We have over a million acres in the state of Texas burning all the way from Louisiana to New Mexico in multiple fires which are uncontrolled,” he said.
Burn bans are currently in effect in 195 of the state’s 254 counties.
Currently the Texas Forestry Services are drawing resources from counties not yet effected by the wildfire spreading from El Paso to Tyler/Longview Texas. These requests come on a 7 day tour.