Austin Fire Contained, 18 Homes Damaged

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) -- A wildfire in Austin that authorities believe was sparked by a homeless man's campfire burned 100 acres and damaged at least 18 homes - a number fire officials expect to increase once they can get a better look at the destruction Monday.

Austin Fire Department spokesman Chayer Smith said he expected the figure to change "substantially upward" once firefighters can survey the area in the daylight.

Authorities believe a homeless man started the fire by lighting a campfire to cook amid strong winds and tinder-dry conditions that have left firefighters battling a spate of wildfires threatening communities across Texas.

Wildfires have spread across more than 700,000 acres - about the size of Rhode Island - in drought-stricken Texas. Those conditions endured Monday.

"It's so dry statewide, it's just amazing," Texas Forest Service spokesman Marq Webb told The Associated Press.

New blazes have been detected Tyler and Hardin counties in East Texas, where about 3,000 acres have burned in an area known for its thick forests. Webb said he was particularly concerned that the tops of some trees have been set alight by wind-carried embers, a type of blaze known as crowning.

"Fire builds up and gets into the tops of trees, it just races through the top," said Webb. "You don't normally see that kind of fire activity in East Texas. The fire factor is just running off the charts."

The fire in southwest Austin destroyed at least eight homes and damaged 10 others. The suspect, whose name has not been released, is charged with reckless endangerment. He is being held on $50,000 bond.