Officials: 2 killed in massive Central Texas blaze

JIM VERTUNO - Associated Press
Hayden Wilhelm sprays water on hot spots at a neighbors home that burned when wildfires swept through the area, Tuesday, Sept. 6, 2011, in Bastrop, Texas.  More than 1,000 homes have burned in at least 57 wildfires across rain-starved Texas, officials said Tuesday.  (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
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Hayden Wilhelm sprays water on hot spots at a neighbors home that burned when wildfires swept through the area, Tuesday, Sept. 6, 2011, in Bastrop, Texas. More than 1,000 homes have burned in at least 57 wildfires across rain-starved Texas, officials said Tuesday. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

BASTROP, Texas (AP) — A massive wildfire that destroyed at least 600 homes in Central Texas has killed two people, authorities said Tuesday.

Bastrop County Sheriff Terry Pickering said he had no details about the victims, including when or how they died.

The fire was the largest of dozens burning throughout the drought-stricken state. It started Sunday near the town of Bastrop, about 25 miles (40 kilometers) south of Austin, and quickly spread, fanned in part by winds from Tropical Storm Lee, which dumped its rain on Gulf Coast states further east.

The state Forest Service said Tuesday morning that firefighters hadn't begun to contain the fire, which had destroyed about 600 homes and forced the evacuation of hundreds of others.

State emergency manager State emergency management chief Nim Kidd said it was the most destructive fire of the year in Texas, and that the number of homes destroyed would likely go up after the hardest-hit areas are assessed.

Texas officials say more than 1,000 homes have been destroyed and more than 100,000 acres (40,469 hectares)have burned in wildfires over the past week.

A fast-moving blaze in the East Texas town of Gladewater on Sunday killed a 20-year-old woman and her 18-month-old daughter, trapping them in their burning home. That fire was eventually extinguished.

Gov. Rick Perry, who cut short a presidential campaign trip to South Carolina on Monday to return to help oversee firefighting efforts in Texas, toured a blackened area near Bastrop on Tuesday.

"Pretty powerful visuals of individuals who lost everything," Perry said. "The magnitude of these losses are pretty stunning."

Some residents said they were surprised by how quickly the blaze engulfed their neighborhoods.

"We were watching TV and my brother-in-law said to come and see this," Dave Wilhelm, 38, who lives just east of Bastrop said. "All I saw was a fireball and some smoke. All of a sudden: Boom! We looked up and left."

Wilhelm returned Tuesday to find his neighbor's house and three vehicles gone, some of his own children's backyard toys destroyed but their house spared.

"Some stuff is smoldering on the lot behind us. Inside of the house, we smell like a campfire. We're definitely very lucky."