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Hundreds flee 25,000-acre Texas wildfire

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Associated Press

SAN MANUEL, Texas — A wildfire blamed on a fallen power line in the Rio Grande Valley spread to about 25,000 acres Wednesday, forcing hundreds from their homes.

A small grass fire near Laredo also caused a power plant to shut down as a precaution for about two hours and led the state’s electric power grid to import power from Mexico for a time.

The Rio Grande Valley fire, which started Tuesday afternoon, was 50 percent contained by Wednesday evening. Earlier, the Texas Forest Service estimated the blaze covered about 50,000 acres but a view from the air showed it to be about half that size, spokeswoman Sandra Taylor said.

Still, the fire covered an area about 20 miles long and 2 miles wide, she said.

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Officials were keeping a wary eye on wind conditions, saying high winds could stir flames up again.

"If the weather stays with us, hopefully we can button this down," Taylor said.

At least four homes were destroyed, and bulldozers uprooted grass near the Hidalgo County jail and an elementary school in hopes of stopping the encroaching flames, authorities said.

At least 500 people evacuated. There were no reports of injuries.

"Right now, our priority is to save lives," Hidalgo County Judge J.D. Salinas said.

Deputies went door to door through the area Tuesday night to alert residents to the threat. Edinburg North High School was opened as a shelter, Hidalgo County spokeswoman Cari Lambrecht said.

A 40-mile stretch of U.S. Highway 281 — the main route north out of the area — was reopened in both directions about 6:30 a.m., said Hidalgo County spokeswoman Cari Lambrecht.

Taylor said that the small grass fire near the power plant in Laredo was extinguished and that the power plant was running again. No one lacked power, she said.

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Dottie Roark, a spokeswoman for the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, said ERCOT issued an emergency notice and imported power from Mexico when notified about the power plant outage. She said there was no threat to electric service in the state.

Last weekend, President Bush made federal aid available to 70 percent of Texas counties after wildfires scorched 133,000 acres across the state Friday.

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