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September 9, 2011

Texas drought and wildfires

Wildfires have blazed across Texas for several days, but the drought conditions that fed the flames have been building for many months. The ten-month period through July was the driest in Texas state history. Entire lakes have dried up. Since last November, almost 1,500 homes have burned in nearly 21,000 fires across the state. Two deaths so far have been attributed to the fires, which have forced the evacuations of thousands of residents. The Texas drought and wildfires come on the heels of the Arizona wildfire, the largest in that state's history. -- Lane Turner (45 photos total)

Two firefighters break from battling a wildfire off Foster School Road near Needville, Texas on September 7, 2011. (Patric Schneider/The Courier/AP)

Ranch owner Myron Calley looks at a drying pond at his ranch near Snyder, Texas on August 12, 2011. Some Texas cities, including Waco and Tyler, have broken their record for 100-degree consecutive days. (Jae C. Hong/AP) #

An air tanker drops fire retardant on a fire in The Cliffs development on August 31, 2011 near Possum Kingdom Lake, Texas. (Ron Jenkins/The Fort Worth Star-Telegram/AP) #

Mak Johnson helps move cattle into pens after they had been sold at the Abilene Livestock Auction July 26, 2011 in Abilene, Texas. The drought has caused shortages of grass, hay and water, forcing ranchers to thin their herds. The past nine months have been the driest in Texas since record keeping began in 1895, with 75% of the state classified as "exceptional drought", the highest classification. (Scott Olson/Getty Images) #

Sailboats are left high and dry at Benbrook Lake in Benbrook, Texas on August 16, 2011. (LM Otero/AP) #

A rain gauge stays dry on the edge of a pasture on July 28, 2011 near Canadian, Texas. (Scott Olson/Getty Images) #

Darren Stallwitz shows a cob that's not fully pollinated at his farm in Dumas, Texas on August 13, 2011. With less than five inches of rain since last September, Stallwitz has abandoned 16 percent of his corn. (Jae C. Hong/AP) #

Spectators gather near the Congress Street bridge in downtown Austin, Texas July 27, 2011, to watch the bats make their nightly flight for food. The largest urban bat colony in the world lives below the bridge. The drought has killed off crops, and that in turn has killed off pests the Mexican free-tailed bats eat, so they begin their nightly hunt earlier, while it's still light outside. (Charlie L. Harper III/Reuters) #

Texas State Park police officer Thomas Bigham reaches down into what remains of O.C. Fisher Lake August 3, 2011, in San Angelo, Texas. A bacteria called Chromatiaceae has turned the remaining water red. The 5400 acre lake is down to 1-2 acres. (Tony Gutierrez/AP) #

Jane Pierce, Maribel Curry, and Jan Camp seek refuge from the extreme temperatures under a string of misting hoses at a restaurant in Fort Worth, Texas August 5, 2011. (Mike Stone/Reuters) #

Ranch owner Mike Ratliff looks up to the sky while standing next to his empty hay barn in Colorado City, Texas on August 12, 2011. The ranch owner has sold 75 percent of his livestock due to severe drought conditions. (Jae C. Hong/AP) #

A young boy waits for his snow cone in Colorado City, Texas on August 12, 2011. (Jae C. Hong/AP) #

Construction worker Jose Arellano (left) wipes his face as he and Juan Martinez install fence posts along a corn field in Happy, Texas August 13, 2011. (Jae C. Hong/AP) #

Motorists drive through a dust storm along Highway 191 between Midland and Odessa, Texas on July 29, 2011. The dust cloud accompanied a line of storms that brought much needed precipitation to the drought stricken area. (Mark Sterkel/Odessa American/AP) #

Insulators on a power line are washed from a helicopter in Galveston, Texas on April 28, 2011. As the prolonged drought causes dust buildup on the lines, electricity distributors are using helicopters to clean equipment to prevent outages. (Ken Childress/CenterPoint Energy via Bloomberg) #

A cryogenic tank from the Space Shuttle Columbia was discovered in an evaporating lake bed on the shoreline of Lake Nacogdoches in east Texas, part of debris from the 2003 Columbia disaster, on August 3, 2011. (NASA/Nagodoches Police Department/Reuters) #

A portion of the Cypress Creek Arm of Lake Travis dry on July 20. (Jay Janner/Austin American Statesman/AP) #

Dead fish sit mired in the mud of O.C. Fisher Lake on July 25, 2011 in San Angelo, Texas. The 5,440 acre lake which was established to provide flood control and serve as a secondary drinking water source for San Angelo and the surrounding communities is now dry. (Scott Olson/Getty Images) #

A cow looks for a piece of green grass in the bottom of an empty stock tank at a ranch near Manor,Texas. (Jay Janner/Austin American Statesman/AP) #

The remains of a fresh water crab rest on the cracked, dry bed of Lake E.V. Spence in Robert Lee, Texas. (Tony Gutierrez/AP) #

Eddie Ray Roberts, superintendent of the waste and water department, walks on the bed of Lake E.V. Spence in Robert Lee, Texas on August 7, 2011. Roberts makes the trek toward the water line daily to check on the pump that is feeding Mt. Creek Reservoir nearly 1.3 million gallons of water daily. Every few days, Roberts or members of his small department must relocate the pump because of the receding water line. (Tony Gutierrez/AP) #

An underweight longhorn stands in a field near Stoneham, Texas in an area that was part of a 5,000-acre wildfire in June on July 14, 2011. (Jay Janner/Austin American Statesman/AP) #

A white tail doe stands by a water tank on a ranch near San Angelo, Texas. Most of the wildlife in the region relies heavily on the watering holes maintained for livestock. (Tony Gutierrez/AP) #

A San Marcos salamander, an endangered species, is measured for research at the National Fish Hatchery & Technology Center in San Marcos, Texas on August 16, 20011. As rivers and lakes are being sucked dry, wildlife experts are considering a move to new waters to save some of the state’s endangered fish. (Eric Gay/AP) #

A Texas Blind Salamander, an endangered species, is displayed at the National Fish Hatchery & Technology Center in San Marcos, Texas on August 16, 20011. (Eric Gay/AP) #

Charred appliances and a fireplace are all that remain of a home in Possum Kingdom Lake, Texas on August 31, 2011, the day after a wildfire swept through the area. (LM Otero/AP) #

A burned ridge line smolders on September 7, 2011 east of Bastrop, Texas. (Erich Schlegel/Getty Images) #

A home burns in Steiner Ranch west of Austin, Texas on September 4, 2011. (Jay Janner/Austin American-Statesman/AP) #

Virginia Esquivel (right) is comforted by her neighbor, Yolanda Rodriguez, after Esquivel's home in Cedar Park, Texas burned on September 4, 2011. (Jay Janner/Austin American-Statesman/AP) #

Flames engulf a road near Bastrop State Park as a wildfire burns out of control near Bastrop, Texas September 5, 2011. (Mike Stone/Reuters) #

Allen Hoffman runs towards the home of Patrick McAlister as smoke engulfs the house while a wildfire burns out of control near Bastrop, Texas September 5, 2011. (Mike Stone/Reuters) #

Ryan Joseph Terranova packs up his belongings moments before evacuating his home in Bastrop, Texas, as a huge fire approaches on September 5, 2011. The fire destroyed nearly 500 homes during a rapid advance fanned in part by howling winds from the remnants of Tropical Storm Lee, which brought no rain. (Jay Janner/Austin American-Statesman/AP) #

Home owner, Dennis Kleiber uses a chainsaw to cut a hole in his floor to get to smoldering wood as Brian Schultz douses embers in the Blue Bonnet Acres subdivision west of Bastrop, Texas on September 5, 2011. (Rodolfo Gonzalez/Austin American-Statesman/AP) #

A series of large wildfires approaches Bastrop, Texas on Highway 71on September 5, 2011. (Erich Schlegel/AP) #

The chimney of a house remains standing as the rest of the building burns to the ground near Bastrop, Texas September 5, 2011. Sixty separate wildfires, whipped by strong winds, were burning across Texas on Monday. (Mike Stone/Reuters) #

Nathan and Deborah Torkelson embrace on September 6, 2011 outside their home that was destroyed by fire near Bastrop, Texas. (Jay Janner/Austin American-Statesman/AP)#

Bastrop, Texas smolders on September 6, 2011. (William Luther/San Antonio Express-News/AP)#

A melted basketball goal remains after a wildfire near Bastrop, Texas September 6, 2011. The Bastrop County Complex fire has destroyed up to 600 homes, the most of any single fire in Texas history. (Mike Stone/Reuters) #

A statue stands charred in front of the remnants of a home on the east side of Lake Bastrop on September 6, 2011 in Bastrop, Texas. (Erich Schlegel/Getty Images)#

Residents of Bastrop, Texas look at a map of the areas burned on September 7, 2011. (Laura Skelding/Austin American-Statesman/AP)#

A photograph sits amid the remains of a home in the Steiner Ranch on September 6, 2011 outside Austin, Texas. (Ricardo B. Brazziell/Austin American-Statesman/AP)#

Eric Kemper looks at a letter written by his sister-in-law, who was killed in Iraq, that was stored in a fireproof cabinet after his home was destroyed by fire near Bastrop, Texas September 6, 2011. (Mike Stone/Reuters)#

Courtney Hughes sits in the family car as they decide where they will be spending the night as residents obey a mandatory evacuation in Waller County, Texas on September 7, 2011. (Mayra Beltran/Houston Chronicle/AP)#

Hillary Polly looks through belongings as Thomas Polly tries to pry open a fireproof gun safe with his father Louie Polly amongst the rubble of their burned house September 7, 2011 near Bastrop, Texas. (Erich Schlegel/Getty Images)#

Astronauts aboard the International Space Station photographed east-central Texas on September 6, 2011, highlighting numerous smoke plumes caused by wildfires burning across the state. Smoke plumes are clearly visible to the east of Austin; to the north of Houston; to the northwest of Lake Sam Rayburn and Toledo Bend Reservoir; and to the west of Shreveport, Louisiana. Diffuse smoke is moving offshore into the Gulf of Mexico. Part of an ISS photovoltaic radiator panel is visible at image top center. (Reuters/Nasa Earth Observatory/Handout)#