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Texas wildfire 30% contained with 'potential for growth'

By the CNN Wire Staff
  • NEW: Fire north of San Antonio "more than 50% contained"
  • In the past week, Texas Forest Service responds to 176 fires
  • Forest Service: Most of "forward progress" of Bastrop fire has been stopped
  • Nearly 1,400 homes have been destroyed in the Bastrop fire, officials say

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Bastrop, Texas (CNN) -- The wildfire raging near Austin, Texas, has destroyed nearly 1,400 homes and has "potential for growth," a fire official said Thursday.

The 34,000-acre Bastrop County fire remained 30% contained late Thursday afternoon, said County Emergency Management Coordinator Mike Fisher. "There's still some potential for growth in size," he said.

The fire has killed two people. A search team is helping local officials scour the area for other potential victims.

A line crew working to restore electricity in the area became trapped and wound up being rescued from advancing flames by helicopter, Fisher said.

Victoria Koenig, spokeswoman for the Texas Forest Service, said the fire has destroyed 1,368 homes -- more than double the estimate officials gave Wednesday.

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About 240 other homes have been lost in other fires since Sunday, the service said.

Authorities said Thursday they were allowing some of the 5,000 people who had evacuated to return to their homes.

For most of the past year, scores of wildfires have been burning across the drought-stricken state.

In the past week, the Texas Forest Service said it has responded to 176 fires over 126,844 acres. On Wednesday alone, the service responded to 20 new fires covering 1,422 acres.

Officials were expected to enlist the help of a DC-10 tanker to fight the flames, but it cannot be used until Friday, when the decision will be made about when and where to use the resource, Bastrop County Judge Ronnie McDonald said.

"The crews that come in overnight are going to tell us those places that they still think they're going to need to treat with that," he said.

The tanker, called in by the Texas Forest Service, can drop more than 11,000 gallons of retardant at a time across a swath three quarters of a mile long and 500 feet wide.

Airtankers, scoopers and helicopters have assisted in efforts to battle the Bastrop fire, the forest service said. "Most of the forward progress of the fire has stopped, but significant intense burning continues in the interior," the service said Thursday.

The weather may bring "a sliver of hope in the next five to six days," said HLN meteorologist Bob Van Dillen. "Tropical Storm Nate over the Bay of Campeche may spread some rain to south-central Texas next week, but those chances seem slim at this point."

While the cause of the Bastrop fire remains unknown, officials in Leander, about 60 miles northwest of Bastrop, said they believe four teens were responsible for setting a smaller fire there that destroyed 11 homes this week, causing $1.4 million in damage.

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  • Wildfires
  • Texas

In Camp Bullis, north of San Antonio, a wildfire that broke out Wednesday afternoon had burned 290 acres by Thursday afternoon, said Bexar County Fire Marshall spokeswoman Laura Jesse. "We're thinking now, with the water drops, it's more than 50% contained," she said, referring to the drops made by four helicopters.

Another fire, 15 to 20 acres in area, destroyed four homes, three storage sheds and 15 cars, but was some 95% contained, she said.

Jerry Hooten found little more than ashes when he returned to his home in Bastrop County.

"We ain't happy about it, but we're all alive," said Hooten, who is staying at an RV park outside the danger zone.

"I don't think it's registered in our brains that our house is gone and that, really, half of Bastrop is gone," said evacuee Claire Johnson.

CNN's Scott Thompson, Nicole Saidi and Jim Spellman contributed to this report.