GLADEWATER, Texas (AP) — A longtime Texas sheriff says it was the fastest-moving fire he has ever seen. Six homes were toppled within minutes, including one trailer where a woman and her 18-month-old daughter were killed because they couldn't escape in time.
Authorities said the fires, including the one that killed the two people Sunday near the East Texas community of Gladewater, were propelled partly by the high winds caused by Tropical Storm Lee. Neighborhoods across eastern and central parts of the state were reporting widespread damage covering thousands of acres.
"The houses that were in its path on this particular roadway were taken out," Gregg County Sheriff Maxey Cerliano said. "There were many other houses that the fire got right up to the porch."
The 20-year-old woman and her child were found dead near the bathroom of their trailer home just outside Gladewater, about 120 miles east of Dallas and 60 miles west of Shreveport, La. A male occupant of the home sustained minor burns but was able to escape, and he frantically searched for the others, Cerliano said.
Texas Forest Service officials estimated some 1,400 acres were burned in that area alone, destroying homes, barns and vehicles, and thousands of other acres were scorched in other parts of the state.
"We've completely depleted our resources," Melanie Spradling, a public information officer with the Texas Forestry Service, told the Tyler Morning Telegraph. "We're on every fire we can possibly handle and then some."
Cerliano said a church, numerous other homes and parts of a cemetery were also destroyed.
Authorities said the fires were lingering in part because a cold front was passing through and Tropical Storm Lee had whipped up winds, in places measured as high as 40 mph.
"With as hot and dry as the summer was, all that does is fuel the fires," National Weather Service Meteorologist Matt Hemingway said. "Right now, the chance for any rainfall from the tropical storm is basically nil."
The National Weather Service said South, Central and East Texas were all under "red flag" warnings for critical fire conditions until late Sunday night.
In Central Texas, the wildfire threat was so dire near Austin that the fire department issued a public appeal asking any and all area firefighters to report for duty.