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Weather during the last couple of days has helped firefighters battle several massive wildfires in Texas that have destroyed hundreds of homes and more than a million acres of land.  

Mark Hanna, spokesman for the Insurance Council of Texas, said the state has received some rain and a favorable shift in winds. The Texas Forest Service list of wildfires indicates many fires are nearly 100 percent contained, but hundreds of homes remain threatened and new fires continuously spring up.

The shift in wind got the McDonald Observatory, a research unit of The University of Texas at Austin, out of harm’s way. At one time the Rock House Fire was within eight miles of the observatory, home to three multimillion-dollar telescopes. People using the structure as an evacuation center had to be evacuated. Observatory spokeswoman Rebecca Johnson says the observatory is now open to the public.

While it is true that the fires burned hundreds of thousands of undeveloped acres, they have also found some clusters of homes such as Possum Kingdom Lake, a resort area with expensive homes, Hanna says. More than 100 homes were destroyed there.

Claims are adding up each day for losses of homes, barns, sheds, fences, tractors, automobiles and boats, reports Hanna.

Texas has been suffering from drought-like conditions for some time, Hanna says, and burn ban remains in 202 of the state’s 254 counties.

“It’s a tinder box out there,” Hanna says.

Fires are not the state’s only worry. Yet another significant hailstorm hit the Dallas/Fort Worth area on April 18, Hanna says. A line of storms 100 miles long produced hail up to the size of tennis balls, he adds.

Insurers can expect more auto and home claims to add to insured losses. Large hail and strong winds on April 10 is estimated to have already caused $100 million in insured losses, Hanna says.

But even as the hail stopped, the wildfires burn on. Below and on the following pages are stunning nighttime images of the burn in progress at or near the McDonald Observatory, which is located at the University of Texas at Austin.

The Southwest Incident Management Team undertook controlled burns on Sunday, April 17, 2011 to get rid of fuel on the mountains around McDonald Observatory. This would starve the Rock House wildfire of fuel should it head back in observatory's direction. Here, Black Mountain is burning. The Hobby-Eberly Telescope dome is at right. Above it, the bright line on the right is the wildfire that broke through a burn-out line on Sunday afternoon. The bright line on the left is the front of a back-fire set to stop that portion of the wildfire. Silhouetted by the back-fires on Black and Spring (to the left) Mountains is Guide Peak now with only small pockets of active fires.


Posted 11:55 AM

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