Some Texas Residents to Return to Homes in Fire-Ravaged Area

bastrop fire 101415
Texas A&M Forest Service

Authorities in Central Texas say firefighters are still several days away from controlling a wildfire that's destroyed dozens of homes but they said enough progress has been made to allow some residents to return to their neighborhoods.
   
The Hidden Pines Fire has consumed about 4,600 acres and razed nearly 50 homes and seven businesses, most of them just north of Buescher State Park.
   
Authorities at a news conference Saturday said about 40 percent of the fire is contained, but added that stronger fire lines have been established to prevent it from spreading.
   
Bastrop County Emergency Management Coordinator Mike Fisher says firefighters "have got the upper hand on this thing."
   
The wildfire has scorched more than 7 miles of forestland in an area about 40 miles southeast of Austin.
   
THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP's earlier story is below.
   
Firefighters expect to have favorable weather this weekend to help contain a rural Texas wildfire that has destroyed about 50 structures and consumed more than 7 miles of scorched and bone-dry forestland.
   
Some residents have been unable to return to their homes on barricaded roads in Bastrop County. But officials said Friday that the fire that began Tuesday and grew big enough to waft smoke into downtown Austin, some 40 miles away from the fire, now appears to be getting under control.
   
"Barring some totally unforeseen circumstance, we're on the downhill side of this fire," Bastrop County Judge Paul Pape said.
   
No deaths or serious injuries have been reported. The Hidden Pines Fire is 40 percent contained, up from 15 percent on Thursday.
   
About 200 firefighters from across Texas have battled the blaze during daylight, and on Friday, a DC-10 jet tanker flown in from Tennessee dropped nearly 12,000 gallons of retardant on the smoldering area.
   
The fire has been fueled partly by hot, dry weather, but a cool front moved into Central Texas on Friday.
   
The fire is chewing much of the same area that was devastated in 2011 by a far more massive wildfire that wiped out 1,600 homes and killed two people. But this time, winds have paled to the 50 mph gusts that overwhelmed firefighters four years ago.
   
Pape said a preliminary investigation found that an accident during a "farming operation" may have caused the fire. He told the Austin American-Statesman that a rancher was pulling a shredder through grass when an overheated bearing ignited grass clippings. A line of fire was created before the rancher discovered what had happened.
   
About 400 homes have been evacuated since the fire began. Most of the structures destroyed are believed to be houses.
   
About 200 residents have checked into local shelters, though authorities say few have stayed overnight as most slept in motels or the homes of friends.

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