Texas fires kill 4, destroy more than 1,000 homes

Firefighters from Smithville Fire Department battle a large wildfire on Highway 71 near Smithville, Texas, Monday. (AP Photo/Erich Schlegel)
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At least 11 other fires exceeded 1,000 acres Tuesday, including an 8,000-acre blaze in Caldwell County, next to Bastrop County. At least six homes were lost in a fire 40 percent contained. In far Northeast Texas' Cass County, a 7,000-acre fire burned in heavy timberland. And in Grimes County, about 40 miles northwest of Houston, a 3,000-acre fire destroyed nearly two dozen homes and threatened hundreds more.

Many of the buildings destroyed in the Bastrop fire were modest, single-story homes in housing developments. Others were expensive ranch homes, set off by themselves.

In at least one neighborhood in Bastrop, flames hop-scotched a street where houses were tucked among oaks, pines and cedar trees. Some homes survived; others were gone.

The Postal Service delivered mail to homes that had burned to the ground; only the mailboxes were left stand.

Residents were surprised by how quickly the blaze engulfed their neighborhoods.

"We were watching TV and my brother-in-law said to come and see this," said Dave Wilhelm, who lives just east of Bastrop. "All I saw was a fireball and some smoke. All of a sudden: Boom! We looked up and left."

Wilhelm returned on Tuesday to find his neighbor's house and three vehicles gone. Some of his children's backyard toys were destroyed, but the Wilhelm house was spared.

"Some stuff is smoldering on the lot behind us," he said. "Inside of the house, we smell like a campfire. We're definitely very lucky."

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