Wildfire destroys 300 homes near Austin, Texas

BASTROP, Texas (AP) — A wildfire burning southeast of Austin, Texas, destroyed about 300 homes and was advancing unchecked on Monday through parched ranchland along a 16-mile (26-kilometer) front, authorities said.

The fire, one of dozens that crews were battling throughout the drought-stricken state, had blackened some 17,500 acres (7,080 hectares) but was not threatening the state capital, as it was about 30 miles (50 kilometers) from the city and headed the opposite way. But the ferocity and speed with which it was moving made it unsafe to fight from the ground, Texas Forest Service spokeswoman Jan Amen said.

"It's a monster, and it's zero percent contained" Amen said.

Instead, the state was scrambling its firefighting air fleet, including National Guard helicopters and four heavy tanker planes. It also was bringing in a tanker from South Dakota.

The blaze was the largest of dozens of wildfires burning throughout the state, including 63 that had started since Sunday. Texas is enduring its worst drought since the 1950s, and the wildfire threat has been exacerbated by powerful wind gusts cast off by Tropical Storm Lee, hundreds of miles to the east.

The fires led Gov. Rick Perry to cut short a visit to South Carolina and cancel a planned trip to California, Ray Sullivan, a spokesman for his Republican presidential campaign, said in a statement.

Texas has experienced more than its share of destructive storms, including Hurricane Ike three years ago. But the state's anxious farmers and ranchers would have welcomed the rain that Tropical Storm Lee dumped instead on Gulf Coast states further east. Instead of water, Texas got winds, which combined with an advancing cold front to heighten the wildfire threat.

All but three of the 254 counties in Texas were under outdoor burn bans.

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