AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — The worst of a rural Texas wildfire that has destroyed nearly 50 structures is likely over as firefighters make big strides containing more than 7 miles of scorched and bone-dry forestland, authorities said Friday.
Some residents remain unable to return to their homes on barricaded roads in Bastrop County. But officials said 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. Firefighters expect to have favorable weather this weekend as the Hidden Pines Fire is now 40 percent contained, up from 15 percent a day earlier.
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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.