By Karen Brooks
AUSTIN, Texas (Reuters) - Rains over east Texas on Wednesday gave firefighters some relief in battling a devastating wildfire that has displaced 1,800 people and destroyed dozens of homes, authorities said.
Up to two inches of rain fell overnight soaking a swath of Texas from San Antonio to the Louisiana border, and a lighter rain continued on Wednesday afternoon. It was a welcome reprieve, but given the drought conditions in the area, only temporary.
"It's just a little relief," said Kathi White, a spokeswoman for the teams battling fires in east Texas. "We expect that once this rain moves on, you'll see more smoke and perhaps more fire showing up, when the weather dries up."
But the break in weather, fire officials said, had helped them contain 75 percent of the Dyer Mill Fire, which has burned 5,280 acres since it erupted an hour outside Houston on Sunday.
The fire has displaced some 1,800 people and charred 35 homes.
The story was different in drought-parched West Texas, which saw no rain as the largest wildfire burning in the state grew significantly overnight.
The White Hat fire, an hour's drive from Abilene, was measured at 70,559 acres by Wednesday afternoon and fire crews had contained 50 percent of its perimeter, authorities said.
Some 58 major active wildfires are burning across the nation, most of them in the South and Southwest, scorching 1,451,966 acres, according to the National Interagency Fire Center. The majority of the fires are burning in Florida and Texas, the center reports.
So far in 2011, fires have burned more than 4.5 million acres - or some 7,000 square miles, in 34,490 fires nationwide.
Nature provided some relief on Wednesday to firefighters battling blazes in the parched Southwest.
Lighter winds continued to help crews in eastern Arizona gain the upper hand fighting the nation's largest active blaze -- the Wallow Fire in the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest.
That blaze has consumed nearly 530,000 acres, or 828 square miles, of mostly ponderosa pine forest in Arizona's White Mountains area near the New Mexico border.
Crews battling the Monument Fire, which charred more than 60 homes close to the Mexico border in southern Arizona were helped by a shift in wind direction that pushed the fire back on itself. Crews there also pushed ahead with a planned burning operation overnight to safeguard homes near Sierra Vista.
Easing winds also helped crews battling a fire burning a few miles from Santa Fe in New Mexico, which had torched nearly 5,000 acres and remained just 5 percent contained early Wednesday.
More than 500 firefighters and nine helicopters have been battling the Pacheco Fire, strengthening fire lines along its southern border.
Fire officials there had been concerned that high temperatures later in the day would cause them to lose ground to the blaze. But Wednesday afternoon there had been no major flare-ups, they said.
"As far as I know, everything is going as planned," New Mexico Fire Information Officer Lori Cook told Reuters on Wednesday afternoon.
The cause of the Pacheco fire is still unknown.
(Additional reporting by Tim Gaynor and Zelie Pollon; Editing by Greg McCune)