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Thousands Flee Texas Fires

Firefighters from around the state battle a large wildfire on Highway 71 near Smithville, Texas.  A roaring wildfire raced unchecked Monday through rain-starved farm and ranchland in Texas, destroying nearly 500 homes during a rapid advance fanned in part
Firefighters from around the state battle a large wildfire on Highway 71 near Smithville, Texas. A roaring wildfire raced unchecked Monday through rain-starved farm and ranchland in Texas, destroying nearly 500 homes during a rapid advance fanned in part

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Thousands of people are fleeing from wildfires that continue to burn out of control in the southern state of Texas.

Texas officials say 5,000 residents have been evacuated from the raging fires, which have already burned about 15,000 hectares of land and destroyed more than 1,000 homes.

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Two deaths - a 20-year-old mother and her child - are also being blamed on the fires.

Texas Governor Rick Perry told media outlets early Tuesday that firefighters are battling more than 50 blazes across the state and that the fires were still not under control.

A persistent drought and high winds have helped fan the flames, spreading the damage over a wider area.  But forecasters said Tuesday that the winds should ease and hopefully make it easier for firefighters to get the fires under control.

Some Texas residents had hoped for some needed rain from Tropical Storm Lee which came ashore Sunday in the bordering state Louisiana.  But Lee has only helped to create more wind.

Wildfires have consumed almost 1.5 million hectares of land in Texas since just before the start of the year.

The state has deployed aircraft, including four heavy tanker planes, to combat the fires.  

The worst blaze, near Austin, the state capital, stretches for more than 25 kilometers.

Two-hundred-fifty-one of the state's 254 counties have banned burning materials outside.

Texas Governor Rick Perry, who is seeking the Republican Party's presidential nomination, cut short a campaign visit to South Carolina Monday and returned home to oversee the fire-fighting efforts.  As he went before television cameras, the governor urged people in harm's way to listen to evacuation orders.  

Some information for this report was provided by AP and Reuters.

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