BASTROP, Texas — A roaring wildfire raced unchecked Monday through rain-starved farm and ranchland in central Texas, destroying nearly 500 homes during a rapid advance fanned in part by howling winds from the remnants of Tropical Storm Lee.
At least 5,000 people were forced from their homes in Bastrop County about 25 miles east of Austin, many of them fearing the worst while spending the night in shelters. Huge clouds of smoke soared into the sky and hung over downtown Bastrop, a town of about 6,000 people along the Colorado River.
The blaze consumed as much as 25,000 acres along a line that stretched for about 16 miles, Texas Forest Service officials said. It destroyed 476 homes and about 250 firefighters were working around the clock, using bulldozers and pumper trucks against the fire, Bastrop County Judge Ronnie McDonald said.
Mike Fischer, the county emergency management director, said that the fire is "nowhere near controlled" and that a separate, smaller blaze south of the city is growing larger.
Rick Blakely, 54, said when it finally is time to return home, "I'm not expecting anything to be standing." He was among about 30 people who slept on cots at a church.
The new outbreak led Gov. Rick Perry to return home to Texas, cutting short a visit to South Carolina where he was campaigning for the Republican nomination for president. He also canceled a trip to California.
"The wildfire situation in Texas is severe and all necessary state resources are being made available to protect lives and property," Perry said.
Authorities mobilized ground and air forces to fight the largest of at least 63 fires that broke out in Texas since Sunday as high winds from what was then Tropical Storm Lee swept into Texas, which has endured its worst drought since the 1950s.