Image: Linden, Texas fire
Adam Sacasa  /  AP
Justin Hodges of the Cleburne Fire Department takes a defensive stance as he hoses down the home in Jefferson, Texas, on Thursday.  Nearly 1,400 homes have been destroyed east of Austin.
msnbc.com news services
updated 9/9/2011 5:10:02 PM ET 2011-09-09T21:10:02

A deadly and enormously destructive wildfire was still burning on Friday southeast of Austin, but county officials said the nearly 850 firefighters battling the blaze continue to make progress in containing the historic fire.

Firefighters held firm on the frontlines, tamping down hotspots and holding back flames from a wildfire that has burned for days across Central Texas, incinerating nearly 1,400 homes and tens of thousands of acres of drought-parched land.

Story: Forecast for wildfire-weary Texas: Grim

The fire in and around Bastrop, about 25 miles east of Austin, officially remained 30 percent contained, but crews had surrounded and closed in on the flames, protecting structures. No new homes were reported destroyed overnight.

"It seems to be holding well today," public information officer Annette Grijalva-Disert said.

Authorities had planned Friday to deploy a converted DC-10 jetliner capable of dropping 12,000 gallons of fire retardant on the blaze, but Texas Forest Service spokeswoman Holly Huffman said the massive plane was not immediately needed in Bastrop and was instead sent to fires burning in a mostly rural area north of Houston.

Retardant is dropped to help shorten and shrink flames, allowing firefighters on the ground to make headway, but it does not extinguish the fire.

"What puts fires out, what's most effective are the men and women on the ground," said Tom Harbour, national fire director for the U.S. Forest Service.

Story: Texas wildfire consumes hundreds more homes

Firefighters from across the country continue to pour into Bastrop, and Texas Forest Service incident manager Bob Koenig said 844 were on the fire line there Friday.

PhotoBlog: X marks the spot - charred crossroads near Bastrop

Frustrations and progress in historic Texas wildfire Huffman agreed firefighting crews have made significant strides in Bastrop County and said the jet "can be diverted at any point if a new fire pops up," but it was first sent to blazes in Grimes, Montgomery and Waller counties that have blackened about 15,000 acres 40 miles northwest of Houston.

Texas is in the midst of its worst wildfire outbreak in state history. The Bastrop-area fire has been the largest of nearly 190 wildfires the forest service says erupted this week, leaving nearly 1,700 homes statewide in charred ruins, killing four people and forcing thousands of people to evacuate.

Federal forest service officials earlier this week contacted 10 Tanker Air Carrier LLC, of Victorville, Calif., which leases the DC-10 to the U.S. Forest Service and states as needed. The state asked that the company "ferry it as quickly as possible" to Texas, which also used the tanker in the spring, said CEO Rick Hatton.

The massive plane arrived Tuesday night in Austin, about 25 miles west of the blaze, but could not be used until Friday as crews worked to set a temporary plumbing system to funnel retardant into the plane, said Texas Forest Service spokeswoman Holly Huffman.

Huffman said Texas has retardant plants in place at airports other than Austin, but runways at those sites are neither approved to handle such a large aircraft. She said the DC-10 — which costs the state $12,000 per flight hour as well as a $45,000 per day availability fee — is used in addition to smaller aircraft.

"These tankers aren't magic tools, rather they help to slow down and cool down the fire," she said. "Ground resources still have to go in and contain and extinguish the fire."

Story: Texas sets record for hottest summer in US

Officials on Thursday allowed some of the 5,000 evacuated Bastrop-area residents to return to areas no longer considered threatened, including hundreds of homes in the Tahitian Village neighborhood. Most there appeared untouched, but the pockets of destruction were complete.

Mary Pierce, who for 22 years lived on a quiet street where pines push up into backyards, stared in disbelief Thursday at her foundation, where all that stood was a brick facade and a chimney. Lumped metal appliances suggested a kitchen or laundry room; a metal bed frame, a bedroom.

"When they say things burn to the ground, they really mean burn to the ground," said Pierce, who was one of only two residents to lose a home on her block.

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

© 2013 msnbc.com

Photos: Wildfires scorch Texas

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  1. Courtney Hughes sits in the car as her family decides where to spend the night as residents along Kickapoo Road evacuate Waller County, Texas, on Wednesday. (Mayra Beltran / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Fairchild, Texas, volunteer firefighter Dale Oberhoff gives his wife, Jackie, a kiss on the still smoldering ground after battling a grass fire near Needville, Texas, on Wednesday. (Patric Schneider / The Courier via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. A panoramic view taken by astronauts aboard the International Space Station shows wildfires burning in Texas on Wednesday. (Nasa / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Firefighters put out hot spots at a grass fire off Foster School Road near Needville, Texas, on Wednesday. (Patric Schneider / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. People walk near a vehicle at an intersection in the fire-ravaged area of Bastrop, Texas, on Wednesday. (William Luther / ASSOCIATED PRESS) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Montgomery, Texas, firefighter Reed Griffith crosses flames south of Todd Mission, Texas, on Wednesday. (Mayra Beltran / Houston Chronicle via P) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. An aerial view shows burned houses and trees Sept. 7, east of Bastrop, Texas. Several large wildfires have been devastating Bastrop County for the past three days, but are now 30 percent contained, according to the Texas Forest Service. (Erich Schlegel / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Gaye Jaco (back to camera) hugs stepdaughter Jennifer Leaver upon returning to their burned home on the east side of Lake Bastop on Tuesday, Sept. 6, outside Bastrop, Texas. Large large wildfires have been burning through Bastrop County for the past two days, and two people were reported dead Sept. 6. (Erich Schlegel / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. A burned-out house and cars are seen Sept. 6 near Magnolia. More than 1,000 homes have been destroyed in wildfires across rain-starved Texas, most of them in one devastating blaze near Austin that was still raging out of control. (Smiley N. Pool / Houston Chronical via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. A statue of a woman holding a water bucket stands in front of the remnants of a burned home on the east side of Lake Bastop on Sept. 6. (Erich Schlegel / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. Deborah Torkelson consoles her husband, Nathan, as they stand atop their destroyed home on Cardinal Loop in the Bastrop, Texas, Circle D Estates neighborhood on Sept. 6. (Jay Janner / Austin American-Statesman) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. A firefighting helicopter loads up with water from a pond at the Lost Pines Golf Club as they fight a fire in Bastrop State Park on Sept. 6. (Erich Schlegel / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. Ed Leighton looks through a box of papers Sept. 6 in what remains of his home that burned to the ground on Bluejay Road in Bastrop, Texas. (Jay Janner / Austin American-Statesman) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. Parts of a car melted in the Bastrop, Texas, Circle D Estates neighborhood on Sept. 6. (Jay Janner / Austin American-Statesman) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. Smoke from a wildfire hangs in the sky over Bastrop Sept. 6. Officials hoped that calmer winds would help firefighters battling wildfires that had destroyed about 1,000 homes in Texas and forced thousands of residents to flee. (Eric Gay / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. Massive plumes of smoke block the sky on Highway 71 east of Bastrop on Sept. 5.


    See more Austin American-Statesman photographic coverage of the wildfires.

    (Jay Janner / Austin American-Stateman) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. Chuck Tomlin uses a shovel to stop a fire in the back yard of a home in Bastrop's Tahitian Village neighborhood on Sept. 5. Tomlin volunteered to knock down flames that were just a few feet from the house of a neighbor he had never met.


    See more Austin American-Statesman photographic coverage of the wildfires.

    (Jay Janner / Austin American-Stateman) Back to slideshow navigation
  18. Ryan Joseph Terranova packs up his belongings moments before evacuating his home at the Tahitian Village Apartments in Bastrop as a huge fire approaches on Sept. 5.


    See more Austin American-Statesman photographic coverage of the wildfires.

    (Jay Janner / Austin American-Stateman) Back to slideshow navigation
  19. A plane drops fire retardant on a house in Bastrop's Tahitian Village neighborhood on Sept. 5.


    See more Austin American-Statesman photographic coverage of the wildfires.

    (Jay Janner / Austin American-Stateman) Back to slideshow navigation
  20. Yolanda Rodriguez, left, comforts neighbor Virginia Esquivel in front of Esquivel's gutted home on Bois D'Arc Lane in Cedar Park on Sept. 4. Two homes on the block were destroyed, and a third was damaged.


    See more Austin American-Statesman photographic coverage of the wildfires.

    (Jay Janner / Austin American-Stateman) Back to slideshow navigation
  21. Firefighters battle a large wildfire on Highway 71 near Smithville on Sept. 5. A roaring wildfire raced unchecked through rain-starved farm and ranchland in Texas, during a rapid advance fanned in part by howling winds from the remnants of Tropical Storm Lee. (Erich Schlegel / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  22. The chimney of a house remains standing as the rest of the building burns to the ground near Bastrop on Sept. 5. (Mike Stone / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  23. Students from a local 4-H group drop off bottled water for firefighters and displaced residents at Magnolia High School where residents evacuated from their homes near a 300-acre wildfire gathered on Sept. 5. Nearly 8,000 residents in the Magnolia area were evacuated from their homes. (Eric S. Swist / The Courier via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  24. Clarence Hoffman, left, and his son, Allen Hoffman, battle ground flames as they try to prevent the fire from advancing to the home of Patrick McAlister near Bastrop on Sept. 5. (Mike Stone / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  25. J Cindy Cruz wipes tears from her eyes as Texas Gov. Rick Perry talks with her at Bastrop Middle School in Bastrop on Sept. 5. (Alberto Martìnez / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  26. Residents evacuate their animals as a wildfire threatens the area near Sleepy Hollow Road and Post Oak Drive in Conroe, Texas, on Sept. 5. (Karl Anderson / The Courier via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  27. A wildfire burns out of control in Bastrop State Park near Bastrop on Sept. 5. (Larry W. Smith / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  28. A large plume of smoke rises from a wildfire as onlookers watch from a hill on Sept. 5, in Bastrop. (Eric Gay / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  29. Particia Bloodworth-Neville and her daughter Bailey Neville, 12, watch from Bluebonnet Volunteer Fire Station as a wildfire consumes land around their central Texas home on Sept. 5 in Bastrop. (Trent Lesikar / The Daily Texan via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  30. Lone Camp Volunteer Fire Department firefighter Joe Crawford fights a wildfire on Sept. 1 in Graford, Texas. (Tom Pennington / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  31. Mike Hester holds a cat he rescued from an area destroyed by a wildfire at Possum Kingdom Lake on Aug. 31. (LM Otero / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  32. An air tanker drops fire retardant on a hot spot at Possum Kingdom Lake on Aug. 31 after a wildfire swept through the area. (LM Otero / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  33. Palo Pinto County Sheriff Ira Mercer looks over an area destroyed by a wildfire at Possum Kingdom Lake, Texas, on Wednesday, Aug. 31. The wildfire swept through the neighborhood Tuesday, Aug. 30, destroying 25 homes and turning the normally lush landscape into a blackened mess. (LM Otero / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  34. Eric Kemper holds a cup which reads 'It's a girl' as he looks through the debris of his home after it was destroyed by fire as wildfires burn out of control near Bastrop, Texas September 6, 2011. Wildfires sweeping across drought-stricken Texas have destroyed more than 1,000 homes and forced thousands of evacuations in the past several days, officials said. The worst of the fires, the Bastrop County Complex fire located about 30 miles/48 km southeast of Austin in the central part of the state, has destroyed up to 600 homes, the most of any single fire in Texas history. REUTERS/Mike Stone (UNITED STATES - Tags: ENVIRONMENT DISASTER) (Mike Stone / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
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Interactive: Texas drought

Video: Texas sets US heat record

  1. Closed captioning of: Texas sets US heat record

    >>> the national weather service said today texas had the hottest summer of any state ever on record. the average temperature was 86.8 degrees, it was hotter and drier than during the dust bowl . we're dealing with the consequences of this extreme weather , the massive wildfires.

    >> reporter: calmer winds and cooler temperatures are giving strike teams a fighting chance along the front lines.

    >> in this stage of the fire, it's critical that we do not allow those hot spots to get larger in size, and cause the fire to kind of wake up again.

    >> reporter: but make no mistake, the wildfires in texas are still far from sleeping. in bastrop, only 30% contained, burning across more than 35,000 acres and today the number of homes destroyed has more than doubled from 576 to almost 1,400 now. but those numbers, the maps and charts don't mean so much for a special group of survivors.

    >> i'm scared.

    >> reporter: this morning, on the doors of the command center , a series of handwritten notes appeared. the crayons and markers painting a picture of the wildfire through the eyes of the children.

    >> the fire came by the house and the house is not getting burned.

    >> reporter: their words are simple but so telling. one of the notes reads, we haven't seen our house in three days, we don't know if you saved it, but thank you for trying. and 4-year-old jessica smith understands that fear.

    >> i'm sad.

    >> reporter: 12-year-old devon davenport tried to stay strong. the hardest loss for devon is his dog.

    >> i couldn't get him out.

    >> reporter: tears are unfortunately the only significant water texas has seen or will see for a while. and that's not nearly enough to stop the fires, but the pain and the damage here continues to grow.

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