Perry calls on elite team to lead wildfire search

September 6, 2011 8:33:35 PM PDT
Gov. Rick Perry says a 100-member search team will comb Bastrop County to search for more possible victims from a massive wildfire already blamed for two deaths.

Perry said the search will begin Wednesday morning. The blaze has destroyed more than 600 homes in and around Bastrop, and authorities said Tuesday that two people have died in one of the most destructive Texas wildfires in history.

Perry said late Tuesday he deployed Texas Task Force 1, the state's elite search team, to help local authorities. The team includes a dozen search canines.

Texas Task Force 1 was also sent to New York following the Sept. 11 attacks and New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

Wildfires have scorched more than 45 square miles around Bastrop.

Bastrop County Sheriff Terry Pickering said he had no details about the victims, including when or how they died.

The fire was the largest of dozens burning throughout the drought-stricken state. It started Sunday near the town of Bastrop, about 25 miles south of Austin, and quickly spread, fanned in part by winds from Tropical Storm Lee, which dumped its rain on Gulf Coast states further east.

The state Forest Service said Tuesday morning that firefighters hadn't begun to contain the fire, which had destroyed about 600 homes and forced the evacuation of hundreds of others.

State emergency manager State emergency management chief Nim Kidd said it was the most destructive fire of the year in Texas, and that the number of homes destroyed would likely go up after the hardest-hit areas are assessed.

Texas officials say more than 1,000 homes have been destroyed and more than 100,000 acres have burned in wildfires over the past week.

Gov. Rick Perry, who cut short a presidential campaign trip to South Carolina on Monday to return to help oversee firefighting efforts in Texas, toured a blackened area near Bastrop on Tuesday.

"Pretty powerful visuals of individuals who lost everything," Perry said. "The magnitude of these losses are pretty stunning."

Some residents said they were surprised by how quickly the blaze engulfed their neighborhoods.

"We were watching TV and my brother-in-law said to come and see this," Dave Wilhelm, 38, who lives just east of Bastrop said. "All I saw was a fireball and some smoke. All of a sudden: Boom! We looked up and left."

Wilhelm returned Tuesday to find his neighbor's house and three vehicles gone, some of his own children's backyard toys destroyed but their house spared.

"Some stuff is smoldering on the lot behind us. Inside of the house, we smell like a campfire. We're definitely very lucky."

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Donations are being accepted at a physical address and by mail:

Rundell Business Park Bastrop (supplies donations)
704 Highway 71 West
512-332-8807 (for more info)

BCMA (monetary donations)
P.O. Box 856
Bastrop, TX 78602


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