Texas lt. gov. seeks federal disaster aid

BASTROP, Texas, Sept. 9 (UPI) -- Texas Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst called on President Barack Obama Friday to declare Texas a major disaster area because of wildfires.

"Mr. President, we need a statewide disaster declaration right away. ... We need help from FEMA right away," Dewhurst said at a news conference at the Bastrop convention center.


CNN reported Dewhurst, acting as governor while Republican Gov. Rick Perry is campaigning, told residents he had signed a second letter to Obama seeking the declaration after he got no response to a request earlier this week.

"We need help yesterday," Dewhurst said.

The network said there was no immediate response from the White House.

Dewhurst said state officials are also working with the Federal Emergency Management Agency to seek disaster declarations for specific counties, including Bastrop, site of the biggest fire in the state.

The fire, described as the most destructive in Texas history, has destroyed nearly 1,400 homes near Austin and was about 30 percent contained early Wednesday, fire officials said. The containment figure had not been updated Friday, said Mike Fisher, coordinator of emergency management for Bastrop County, the Austin American-Statesman reported.


"The reality is I don't know" what the containment number is now, Fisher said. "I know it's not 100 (percent). We're still in firefighting mode."

The home-destruction figure more than doubled an estimate released Wednesday as specialists continued a house-by-house tour of the damage.

Firefighters reported progress in their battle against the giant inferno, despite higher winds, officials said.

The blaze in Bastrop County, 30 miles southeast of Austin, covered about 36,000 acres.

Another runaway wildfire that had consumed about 20 square miles north of Houston gained ground and was 50 percent contained, officials said.

Firefighters battled nearly 200 blazes statewide.

Two people have died in Central Texas fires, the American-Statesman said.

"There were 176 fires burning in Texas on Wednesday and 120 of them were in East Texas," Texas Forest Service spokesman Warren Bielenberg was quoted by the Houston Chronicle as saying. "Of the 20 new fires that popped up this same day, we found 19 of them in East Texas."

About 21,000 Texas wildfires have burned nearly 4 million acres and destroyed more than 1,600 structures since December.

The Texas Forest Service said a DC-10 airtanker that arrived in Austin this week to help battle the wildfires could soon be operational but likely won't be needed to fight the Bastrop County fire, the American-Statesman reported. But the tanker, which can drop more than 11,000 gallons of retardant at a time, will remain on standby at the Austin-Bergstrom International Airport.


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