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Austin residents return after wildfire

AUSTIN, Texas -- David and Kris Griffin returned home from out-of-town weekend trips yesterday to find that their house was one of at least 20 in their Austin neighborhood destroyed or nearly destroyed by a weekend wildfire.

Nearly all of their possessions went up in flames, and George, their cat of 11 years, was missing. Making their loss even tougher to grasp, the homes on both sides of theirs survived relatively unscathed.

"All the other houses got saved except ours . . . we're just kind of speechless," said Kris Griffin. She said finding the cat was their priority, because their possessions were replaceable.

Authorities charged a 60-year-old homeless man with arson yesterday, saying he defied a nearly statewide burn ban and left a campfire untended Saturday when he went to a store to buy beer. Fire officials say windblown embers ignited the blaze, which spread quickly through southwest Austin and forced the evacuation of about 200 homes.

The blaze destroyed 10 homes and significantly damaged 10 other.

One of the driest spells in Texas history has left most of the state in extreme drought, and wildfires in various parts of the state have burned more than 1,000 square miles of land in the past week -- an area that together would equal the size of Rhode Island.

Forestry officials said the threat of new fires remained extremely high in the western part of the state. -- AP

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