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Texas wildfire death toll reaches 4

Associated Press / September 7, 2011

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BASTROP, Texas - One of the most devastating wildfire outbreaks in Texas history left more than 1,000 homes in ruins yesterday and stretched the state’s firefighting ranks to the limit, confronting Governor Rick Perry with a major disaster at home just as the GOP presidential contest heats up.

More than 180 fires have erupted in the past week across the rain-starved Lone Star State, and nearly 600 of the homes destroyed since then were lost in one catastrophic blaze in and around Bastrop, near Austin, that raged out of control for a third day yesterday.

Whipped into an inferno by Tropical Storm Lee’s winds over the weekend, the blaze burned more than 45 square miles, forced the evacuation of thousands, and killed at least two people, bringing the overall death toll from the outbreak to at least four.

Perry toured a blackened area near Bastrop yesterday and later deployed the state’s elite search team to the area to look for possible victims.

The governor would not say whether he would take part in tonight’s Republican presidential debate in California, explaining that he was “substantially more concerned about making sure Texans are being taken care of.’’ But campaign spokesman Mark Miner said Perry planned to be there.

About 1,200 firefighters battled the blazes, including crews from such places as Utah, California, Arizona, and Oregon.

The disaster is blamed largely on Texas’s yearlong drought.

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