| AUSTIN, Texas
AUSTIN, Texas Heavy rain, easing winds and lower temperatures helped crews battling wildfires that have torched dozens of homes and scorched thousands of acres in Texas and the Southwest, authorities said on Thursday.
Temperatures in West Texas dipped below 100 degrees Fahrenheit, helping firefighters there tackle the state's largest fire, while drenching rain gave fire crews a break to curb a blaze in a residential area north of Houston,
"It was a godsend," Grimes County Sheriff Donald Sowell said of the storms on Wednesday that helped douse the Dyer Mill Fire, an hour's drive from Houston, that had torched 30 homes and three businesses since Sunday.
"The winds died down and we got ... good solid soaking rain ... Some areas are still smoking a little bit, but it's pretty well down," he added.
Officials on Thursday afternoon lifted an evacuation order that had forced 1,800 residents from their homes, and the Texas Forest Service considered the fire fully contained Thursday evening.
In West Texas, rainfall and temperatures that dipped back into double digits gave authorities a needed reprieve Thursday as they battled the White Hat fire, an hour's drive from Abilene.
The blaze, which charred 12 homes, outbuildings and several cars, was measured at 70,900 acres, and fire crews had contained 65 percent of its perimeter, authorities said.
"We're hoping to take advantage of the good weather before we have another dry weekend," said April Saginor, a spokeswoman for the Texas Forest Service.
"The weather's going to get a little hotter and a little drier, but overall it was a good day," Texas Forest Service spokesman Richard Reuse said.
Around 48 major active wildfires are burning across the United States, most of them in the South and Southwest, scorching 1,438,658 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 some 7,000 square miles -- an area larger than Connecticut -- in 34,673 fires nationwide.
Teams fighting fires in the sun-toasted Southwest also built on a break in the weather in recent days, after gusting winds that had whipped up flames died back.
Crews fighting the Monument Fire that charred 28,000 acres and razed scores of homes near the Mexico border in southern Arizona, brought it almost 60 percent under control on Thursday.
A nearby blaze that roared through mixed pinyon pine and juniper forests of the Chiricahua Mountains in southeast Arizona, consuming 223,000 acres since it broke out on May 8, was now 95 percent contained.
"The emphasis has shifted ... to mop up and rehabilitation," said Marilyn Krause, a spokeswoman with the local fire crew in Arizona.
(Writing by Tim Gaynor; Additional Reporting by Elliott Blackburn in Lubbock, Texas, and Zelie Pollon in Santa Fe; Editing by Greg McCune)