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Published September 05, 2011, 04:12 PM

Texas wildfires could worsen as temperature drops

FORT WORTH, Texas — Cooler temperatures may have come as a welcome relief to many Texans, but it may cause big problems for emergency workers fighting wildfires near Possum Kingdom Lake and outside the Austin suburb of Bastrop, Texas.

FORT WORTH, Texas — Cooler temperatures may have come as a welcome relief to many Texans, but it may cause big problems for emergency workers fighting wildfires near Possum Kingdom Lake and outside the Austin suburb of Bastrop, Texas.

"It's great for having less heat on the firefighters, but it has a very negative impact," said Melissa Yunas, a public information officer working with the Texas Forest Service. "It sucks more moisture out of the vegetation, and it also decreases relative humidity.

"There will be more flare-ups with the cool air," said Yunas, who works with the Florida forest service and was among those traveling to Texas to help out with the fires.

That was not good news for firefighters battling central Texas blazes that have burned across nearly 18,000 acres of land and destroyed hundreds of homes. The uncontrolled fire has jumped roadways and the Colorado River to continue burning, according to Texas Forest Service reports.

The wildfires prompted Texas Gov. Rick Perry to temporarily leave the presidential campaign trail — and bow out of a Republican presidential candidate forum in South Carolina on Monday — to return home.

"The wildfire situation in Texas is severe and all necessary state resources are being made available to protect lives and property," Perry said. "I urge Texans to take extreme caution as we continue to see the devastating effects of sweeping wildfires impacting bother rural and urban areas of the state."

His presidential campaign released a statement about the cancellation of his public appearances Monday and Tuesday, saying: "Gov. Perry's first priority is to the people of Texas during this natural disaster. The governor is in close communication with emergency operations officials regarding fires in Texas, including discussions with emergency management leaders over the weekend and (Monday) morning."

Strong winds and relatively low humidity because of Tropical Storm Lee, which has been downgraded to a tropical storm depression, are believed to have stoked several wildfires, causing them to spread. Thousands of acres are burning across the state.

In East Texas, a fast-moving fire is believed to have killed a woman and her child who couldn't get out of their home fast enough.

Greg County Sheriff Maxey Cerliano told media that a 20-year-old woman and her child were found dead in their trailer home near Gladewater, about 150 miles east of Fort Worth. He also said a man who lives in the home was somewhat burned but able to escape. He searched for the woman and child but didn't find them. They were found dead near the bathroom.

At Possum Kingdom Lake, where the fire remains 75 percent contained after burning more than 6,500 acres and destroying more than 40 homes and RVs, workers Monday were building fire lines by hand and with bulldozers to try to finally contain the wildfires.

"The priority is working the east side of the fire," said April Phillips, a public information officer with the Texas Forest Service. "We are trying to button it up."

She and others asked Texans to use extreme caution to avoid stirring up sparks and causing more wildfires to spread.

"We are still under a critical fire weather watch," Phillips said. "The public still needs to exercise great caution out there. Don't do anything — create an open flame or do outdoor activities that could start a spark.

"Let's wait until we get a little more moisture."

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