AUSTIN (KXAN) - In what the Texas Forest Service said are the driest conditions it has seen since 1917, crews have added nearly 15,000 acres of new wildfires to their list since Saturday. So far this season, they have responded to more than 7,800 fires across more than 1.5 million acres.
In a letter over the weekend, Gov. Rick Perry pressed President Barack Obama for a federal disaster declaration. Perry has specifically requested direct federal assistance to help fight the fires and emergency protective measures to help protect people and property before, during and after the disaster.
"As wildfires continue to rage across our state, Texas is reaching its capacity to respond to these emergencies and is in need of federal assistance," Perry said. "I urge President Obama to approve our request quickly so Texans can continue receiving the resources and support they need as wildfires remain an ongoing threat."
On Monday, Texas' two U.S. senators joined the governor's plea for federal aid.
"The combination of drought and strong winds has proven catastrophic for hundreds of homeowners and businesses." Sens. Kay Bailey Hutchison and John Cornyn said in a letter to W. Craig Fugate,administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency. "State officials have indicated that since the wildfire season began, wildfires have burned approximately 1,528,714 acres, destroying 244 homes. An additional 8,514 homes have been saved as a result of the heroic and proactive efforts of firefighters on the ground."
While Texas officials waited for the Obama administration's response, help was arriving Monday from Wyoming. More than a dozen troops from that state's Air National Guard landed near Abilene on a firefighting airplane that can carry up to 3,000 gallons of fire retardant, The Associated Press reported.
The unit is one of four in the country to have the latest U.S. Forest Service's Modular Airborne Firefighting System — or MAFFS 2.
The system fits inside a C-130 transport plane and can drop slurry out of the side paratrooper door. Older firefighting planes drop slurry out of the back of the plane, which can cause safety problems for the crew because it makes it impossible to keep the cabin pressurized.
The crew is expected to start flying on Tuesday.
In all, some 1,300 people from 34 states are now fighting these fires. Perry has already issued a state emergency disaster declaration for all but two of Texas' 254 counties. Only San Patricio and Wood remain normal.
Burn bans are in effect for 195 counties at this point . The governor's office said there have been no civilian casualties. However, one firefighter has died, and 18 others injured.
Nearly 250 homes have been destroyed, while crews have been able to save more than 8,500 threatened residences. The latest threat was a 100-acre south Austin fire that destroyed 11 structures and damaged another 10. Crews extinguished that blaze on Sunday.
That fire paled in comparison to several ongoing situations throughout the state:
- Jack County: 7,500 acres; 150 homes saved; 40 percent contained
- Trinity County: 1,400 acres of mostly forest
- Tyler County: 800 acres; 40 homes saved; 50 percent contained
- Eastland County: 1,400 acres; 75 percent contained
- Young County: 2,000 acres; plus 75 percent
- Presidio and Jeff Davies Counties (Rockhouse Fire): 182,000 acres; destroyed 23 homes and two businesses; 70 percent contained
- Coke County (Wildcat Fire): 130,000 acres; 10 percent contained
- Kent, Stonewall and Fisher Counties: 152,000 acres; 50 percent contained
- Palo Pinto and Stephens Counties (three fires together): 55,000 acres
Firefighting resources now at work include:
- Texas Intrastate Fire Mutal Aid System: network of fire departments helping neighboring communities at threat
- Federal air assets: one DC-10 and two C-130s for fire suppression
- Texas Forest Service: more than 750 people and 22 air assets
- Texas Military Forces: four Blackhawk helicopters for fire suppression
- Texas Department of Transportation: bulldozers and other resources
- Texas Department of Public Safety: officers
- Texas Division of Emergency Management: officers
- Volunteer organizations: American Red Cross, Salvation Army, Southern Baptist Disaster Relief
- State Operations Center: monitors wildfire threat with Texas Forest Service and National Weather Service
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