Merv at Prairie Pundit, reports that Governor Perry returned to Texas because of the terrible fires that have burned more than 500 homes and killed two since yesterday, forcing him to cancel his plans to take part in the DeMint Palmetto Freedom Forum.
[9/6/11 Update: Losses have climbed to at least 1,000 homes burned to the ground as of this morning. And the fire still burns.]
While Texas has fought fires constantly all summer, major fires that erupted yesterday in Travis & Bastrop Counties are threatening Austin's environs - Bastrop is commuting distance from Austin, as are Cedar Park, Spicewood Springs, and other areas being discussed in news reports. This is the heart of "the Hill Country" of fame and legend. In East Texas, fires caused the deaths of two people yesterday.
Here is a link to Austin Statesman Reader Photos of the fires. There are some really terrifying shots among these - and some that make very clear how dire the situation is.
The Texas Forest Service updates can be found here. This page is usually updated each night, to reflect the previous day's information.
Links to information & a video about the massive blazes known as "fire storms" can be found at Texasfirestorm.org.
Here is a link to a Wild Fire Map (via About.com) from the USDA Active Fire Mapping Program that is updated regularly to show wildfires for the whole United States. As you can see at the time of posting, Texas is on fire.
The InciWeb Fact Sheet on Texas Wild Fires can be found here. The stats updated as of half an hour ago include these sobering numbers:
Total fires in Texas since Nov. 15, 2010: 20,906
Total acres burned in Texas since Nov. 15, 2010: 3,601,775
(exceeds previous record of 2,105,361 acres set in 2005-2006)
Fires in Texas in 2011: 18,887
Fires nationally in 2011: 55,477
Proportion of total national fires in 2011 that have occurred in Texas: 34 percent
Acres burned in Texas in 2011: 3,538,852
Acres burned nationally in 2011: 7,213,113
Proportion of total national acres that have burned in Texas: 49 percent
Ten-year U.S. national average acres burned: 5,863,193 acres/year
Six of the 10 largest wildfires in Texas history occurred in 2011.
Total Aviation Hours: 13,577.05 (As of 9/5/11)
Total aviation drops: 40,950
Gallons of fire retardant dropped: 4,856,080
Gallons of water dropped: 20,851,869
Most flight hours recorded in a single day: 238.39 (20 June 2011)
Most gallons of water and retardant dropped in a single day: 1,188,883 (1 Sept 2011)
(Note: All air operation figures are from 21 Dec. 2010, when record-keeping began.)
Texas counties where Texas Forest Service has fought wildfires: 199 of 254
Homes and structures saved since November 15, 2010: 45,359
Homes saved: 29,055
Homes and structures lost since November 15, 2010: 3,523
Homes lost: 1,091
Record number of homes lost in Texas history on a single fire: 476 homes lost on the Bastrop County Complex Fire on Sept. 4 and 5, 2011.