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Texas seeks fire help

| Friday, March 17, 2006

BORGER, Texas - Gov. Rick Perry took an aerial tour Thursday of thousands of acres charred by wildfires in the Panhandle, calling the property loss staggering and pleading for federal assistance.

Perry, who described miles and miles of burned landscape, said the federal government made substantial promises about reimbursing Texas for help it provided after Hurricane Katrina, but "has not lived up to its word."

"One of the messages, of course, to our federal counterparts is we're going to have to have some help on this," he said. "The plea is going to be out there."

The governor said he told President Bush yesterday morning that he would report back to him on what he saw.

Officials were optimistic better weather could help crews as they battle fires that have consumed 840,000 acres, killed at least 11 people, forced thousands to evacuate their homes and killed an estimated 10,000 horses and cattle.

The weather service said rain could soak the drought-stricken region over the weekend.

"We're hoping to get containment by the weekend. Things are looking real good," said Texas Forest Service spokesman Warren Bielenberg.

Firefighters were trying to extinguish three major blazes yesterday and responded to more than three new smaller fires, he said.

Shifting winds yesterday morning kept the flames from damaging homes in six Panhandle towns. As a precaution, about 3,000 residents in Lipscomb County had been asked to evacuate ahead of the advancing flames.

"Right now, the fire is contained," sheriff's dispatcher Jay Johnson said yesterday. "The wind has shifted, and they've lit a backfire to get the fire burning back on itself."

The latest wildfires started racing across the plains northeast of Amarillo on Sunday. Statewide, fires have consumed about 3.7 million acres and nearly 400 homes since late December.

In Oklahoma yesterday, most of the state was under a red flag warning -- meaning a critical danger of fires -- because of the dry air pushing into the region and the forecast of 20-25 mph winds, the weather service said.

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