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Firefighters look to deal big blow to Texas blaze

Firefighters look to deal big blow to Texas blaze

September 9th, 2011 in News

BASTROP, Texas (AP) - Firefighters rushed Thursday to prepare their biggest weapon for an aerial assault of a massive wildfire that has raged for days, incinerating nearly 1,400 homes and miles of parched land in Central Texas.

Crews made steady progress against the massive Bastrop County fire and surrounded its biggest flames as they finalized plans to deploy a converted DC-10 jetliner Friday capable of dropping 12,000 gallons of retardant on the blaze and smoldering hotspots across some 45 square miles.

Concern lingered, however, about wind sparking flare-ups or fanning flames outside the area that had been surrounded by containment lines.

"I still think we turned a corner, a lot of progress is being made," said Bastrop County Sheriff Terry Pickering.

The DC-10 - nation's biggest firefighting jet - is just one strategy being the community unfamiliar with massive wildfires is employing to finally get control of the blaze. It's been the most catastrophic of nearly 180 wildfires the forest service says erupted across Texas this week in an outbreak that's left nearly 1,700 homes statewide in charred ruins, killed four people and forced thousands of people to evacuate.

Federal forest service officials contacted 10 Tanker Air Carrier, LLC, of Victorville, Calif., which leases the DC-10 to the U.S. Forest Service and states as needed, and asked the company "ferry it as quickly as possible" to Texas, said CEO Rick Hatton.

The massive plane arrived Wednesday in Austin, about 25 miles west of the blaze, but couldn't be used until Friday because authorities needed time to assemble the equipment and prepare the retardant, forest service spokeswoman Holly Huffman said.