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Three out of four of the main fires burning on the outskirts of Texas’ capitol city, Austin, have been mostly contained, officials say, but the largest and most destructive blazes in Bastrop County are only about 30 percent under control.

Two deaths have been reported as a result of the fires in Bastrop County to the east of Austin. More than 33,000 acres and nearly 600 homes have been destroyed by the blazes.

At least two-thirds of the 6,000-acre Bastrop State Park have burned, the Associated Press reported. The park is home to endangered Houston toads and historic rock and stone buildings built by the Civilian Conservation Corps under President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s  New Deal program.

Fire officials also say they are investigating the possibility that a fire in the Austin suburb of Leander that burned 11 homes may be the result of arson.

The Steiner Ranch and Pedernales Bend and Leander fires west and northwest of Austin have been mostly contained.

The high winds that over the weekend that rapidly spread both existing and new blazes had calmed by the morning of Sept. 6 helped firefighters in their battle to contain the fires.

Approximately 3.6 million acres — an area the size of Connecticut — have been burned in Texas in 2011, according to catastrophe modeling firm AIR Worldwide. That accounts for nearly half of all the acreage burned by wildfires in the entire United States this year.

‘The fires have been especially severe because of the 2011 southern United States drought that has persisted throughout the year,’ said Dr. Tomas Girnius, senior research scientist at AIR Worldwide. ‘The levels of exceptional drought in Texas are the highest since the United States Drought Monitor began tracking the data in 2000. Drought conditions in the state have been exacerbated by an unusual convergence of strong winds, unseasonably warm temperatures, and low humidity.’

AIR estimates that the average replacement value (building only) of a single family home in Texas statewide is roughly $187,000.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has authorized the use of federal funds to help fight fires in multiple counties in Texas. This follows requests over the holiday weekend for fire management assistance declarations from state officials.

The fires have been burning in Bastrop County; Montgomery County; Travis County; Williamson County; and along the county lines of Grimes, Waller and Montgomery Counties.

The addition of these seven latest Fire Management Assistance Grants (FMAGs) brings the total of approved FMAGs for Texas to 52 so far in 2011.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s office announced that Texas Task Force 1, the state’s elite search team, was deployed to assist local officials and first responders in Bastrop County.

Based on the needs of local officials, a wide area search team consisting of approximately 100 members and nearly one dozen search canines will be in Bastrop to work with the local incident management team and assist with search operations, the governor’s office reported.

Posted 11:30 AM

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