Texas officials say the number of homes destroyed by a massive wildfire raging east of Austin has risen to 1,554. They also say 17 people are unaccounted for.
Bastrop County Sheriff Terry Pickering said Sunday the missing people could simply be out of town, but authorities have been unable to contact them. "They could have been on vacation," he said.
Two people were found dead Tuesday as search crews went through the charred subdivisions; Michael Farr, 48, died at his home in Smithville, Vickie Keenan, 58, died at a home in the Circle D area of Bastrop County.
County emergency management director Mike Fisher says the number of homes destroyed is expected to rise further as officials enter more areas where the fire has been extinguished.
While sharing the bad news that the tally of destroyed homes will increase, officials also told some 100 residents who gathered at a news conference on Sunday that people would begin going back into the scorched areas on Monday.
A detailed plan will allow residents to slowly enter the evacuated areas over the coming week as firefighters and emergency responders ensure the land has properly cooled, hotspots are extinguished and the blaze is contained.
On Monday, schools will open for the first time since the Bastrop blaze erupted. So many people are living in the town's Super 8, Best Western and Holiday Inn that school buses will stop at all three.
The federal government on Friday declared Texas a disaster area, paving the way for individuals to get financial aid. Democratic U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett said the Federal Emergency Management Agency will incur 75 percent of the costs of fighting the fires, and families will be eligible for up to $30,000 to pay for expenses not covered by insurance policies, such as hotel bills, temporary housing and even construction costs.
"The $30,000 can only go so far toward the expenses that some of you have," Doggett said. "But I think it can be a lot of assistance."
The blaze in Bastrop that erupted a week ago scorched 34,068 acres and is 50 percent contained. The Texas Forest Service said forward progression of the fire has stopped and no new fires are burning outside the main containment lines.
The fire is the largest of more than 190 raging throughout the state.
OTHER TEXAS WILDFIRES
Firefighters are making progress in their efforts to contain the Riley Road wildfire in the tri-county area of Grimes, Montgomery and Waller countiesnorth of Houston. A Texas Forest Service said Sunday the fire 50 percent contained but not before burning nearly 22,000 acres. It said the fire was moving south Saturday, while DC-10 air tankers dropped retardant on the flames. 60 homes have been destroyed. Magnolia Fire Chief Gary Vincent says responders are "optimistic" about their progress.
Nearly 50,000 acres have burned in the Bear Creak wildfire in Cass County. The fire is 80 percent contained but burning very actively in heavy timber and still threatens numerous homes.24 homes have been destroyed just southeast of Linden according to the Texas Forest Service. It said scoopers, heavy airtankers and Texas Intrastate Fire Mutual Aid Systems engines are helping.
The Diana wildfire in Upshur County has burned more than 800 acres and is 75 percent contained according to the TFS. The fire burning in grass and timber is threatening 20 homes.
The Bonbiew Ranch fire in Van Zandt County is 80 percent contained and 20 homes were saves southeast of Canton. 350 acres have burned in that fire according to the TFS.
A wind shift to the south could threaten 30 homes in the line of the Boot Walker fire in Marion County. The TFS said more than 1,000 acres burned in that fire.
Fifteen homes have been reported lost in the Arbor wildfire in Houston County. The TFS said the fire is burning in timber and has taken 3,000 acres, the fire is 90 percent contained.
A pine plantation is providing fuel for the Old Magnolia fire in Gregg County. The TFS said the 3,300 acre wildfire is 80 percent contained but still threatens several structures including a gas plant.
Crews continue to mop up and aircraft are monitoring the PK 101 Ranch fire in Palo Pinto County. The TFS said the fire is still 85 percent contained after burning 6,555 acres. The fire is burning on the south side of Possum Kingdom Lake near the town of Brad. 39 homes and nine RVs have been reported destroyed.