Wildfire destroys nearly 500 homes in Texas

By MICHAEL GRACZYK and WILL WEISSERT | September 6, 2011 | 4:20 AM EDT

Firefighters from around the state battle a large wildfire on Highway 71 near Smithville, Texas, Monday, Sep. 5, 2011. 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 by howling winds from the remnants of Tropical Storm Lee. (AP Photo/Erich Schlegel)

BASTROP, Texas (AP) — Thousands of evacuees spent the night away from their homes in Central Texas as firefighters tried to control a wind-fueled wildfire that has destroyed nearly 500 homes.

Authorities say slack winds expected after midnight Tuesday could help firefighters make progress on the 25,000-acre blaze racing through rain-starved farm and ranchland.

At least 5,000 people were forced from their homes in Bastrop County about 25 miles east of Austin, and about 400 were in emergency shelters Monday. School and school-related activities were canceled Tuesday.

There were no immediate reports of injuries.

Texas Forest Service spokesman John Nichols acknowledged Monday night that weather was unpredictable, saying firefighters had to be optimistic but prepare for the worst.

So far this year, crews have responded to nearly 21,000 wildfires in the drought-stricken state.