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Texas fires: 2 dead, 1,000 homes in ruins

BASTROP, Texas -- One of the most devastating wildfire outbreaks in Texas history left more than 1,000 homes in ruins yesterday and stretched the state's firefighting ranks to the limit, confronting Gov. Rick Perry with a major disaster at home just as the GOP presidential contest heats up.

More than 180 fires have erupted in the past week across the rain-starved state, and nearly 600 of the homes destroyed since then were lost in one catastrophic blaze in and around Bastrop, near Austin, that raged out of control for a third day.

Whipped into an inferno by Tropical Storm Lee's winds over the weekend, the blaze burned 45 square miles, forced the evacuation of thousands, and killed at least two people, bringing the overall death toll from the outbreak to at least four.

"We lost everything," said Willie Clements, whose two-story Colonial home in a housing development near Bastrop was reduced to a heap of metal roofing and ash. A picket fence was melted. Some goats and turkeys survived, but about 20 chickens and ducks were burned to death in a coop that went up in flames.

Clements and his family took a picture of themselves in front of a windmill adorned with a charred red, white and blue sign that proclaimed, "United We Stand." "This is the beginning of our new family album," the 51-year-old Clements said.

Perry cut short a presidential campaign trip to South Carolina to deal with the crisis and toured a blackened area near Bastrop.

"Pretty powerful visuals of individuals who lost everything," he said. "The magnitude of these losses are pretty stunning." -- AP

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