4:02 pm
Fri May 6, 2011

Texas Drought: Could It Get Any Worse?

This map shows more of Texas in drought than any other time since it was introduced by the US Drought Monitor in January 2000.
Image courtesy US Drought Monitor

The U.S. Drought Monitor started using the above map in 2000 to visually represent drought conditions. The newest map, released May 5, shows more land than ever before is in "exceptional drought," the most intense drought category used by the U.S. Drought Monitor.

The Associated Press talked to National Weather Service Meteorologist Victor Murphy who said the same is true of the amount of land in "extreme drought", the second most severe category.

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11:40 am
Tue May 3, 2011

How To Get A Year Of Free Credit Monitoring From Texas Comptroller

The 3.5 million people whose personal data was compromised by the Texas Comptroller can receive a year of free credit monitoring paid for with Comptroller campaign funds.
Photo by B. Rosen http://www.flickr.com/photos/rosengrant/

If your personal data was among the 3.5 million records leaked by the Texas Comptroller, you should have received a letter in the mail by now explaining how to set up free 90-day credit monitoring. What that letter didn't explain, however, was the subsequent decision by the comptroller to use her own campaign funds to pay for you to receive an entire year of credit monitoring and identity restoration services.

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11:12 am
Fri April 29, 2011

Extreme Fire Conditions Forecast Today Across Texas

A U.S. Dept. of Agriculture plane flies over firefighting operations in Scurry County, Texas on April 27. Extreme fire conditions are forecast across much of the state today.
Photo by DVIDSHUB http://www.flickr.com/photos/dvids/

Ten major wildfires are still burning across Texas today, an area that spans 562,004 acres. No new fires were reported on Thursday, but extreme fire conditions are predicted across West Texas today, with red flag warnings in effect. Some two-million acres have already been scorched in Texas since January 1.

One bit of news from the Texas Forest Service. It says the Possum Kingdom wildfire, which burned more than 126,000 acres, has been completely contained.

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4:23 pm
Tue April 26, 2011

Legal Actions Taken Against Comptroller Over Privacy Invasion

Two Texas lawyers have filed a petition to request a permission to question Comb over the security breach, which exposed the personal information of 3.5 million Texans.
Image Courtesy of opensource.com http://www.flickr.com/photos/opensourceway/4638981545/

After state and federal investigations started over the State Comptroller's office's exposure of personal information for over 3.5 million people, now an outside group is joining in.  Two lawyers of the Texas Civil Rights Project are asking a Travis County court to give them permission to investigate the security lapse.

In response to the legal actions taken by the Texas Civil Rights Project, Combs emailed her response to KUT via her spokesperson.

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12:11 pm
Tue April 26, 2011

Six New Wildfires Erupt Across Texas

Austin is facing elevated fire weather conditions.
Photo courtesy by Texas Forest Service

Forecasters say this is the worst drought to hit the state in 45 years. Today, the dangerously dry weather is increasing potential for wildfires as volunteer fire departments battle fatigue to save their communities from the flames.

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9:47 am
Mon April 25, 2011

Crews Winning Wildfire Battles But Dry Winds Bearing Down

Extreme drought has made for tinderbox conditions that are fueling wildfires across Texas, like this one earlier this month in Oak Hill.
Photo by US Air Force http://www.flickr.com/photos/usairforce/

No new large wildfires were reported yesterday, but the weather is worsening for crews combating four major blazes that cover more than 500,000 acres. Here is the latest update from the Texas Forest Service.

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1:30 pm
Fri April 22, 2011

Wimberley Fire May Have Been Caused By Outdoor Grill

Images of the fire taken by YNN's Russell Wilde.

In an area that is currently facing an extreme drought, "wildfire" is one of the last words you want to hear when you wake up on Friday morning. But that's exactly what happened today in Wimberley, a small town with a vibrant artistic community that is less than an hour's drive from Austin.

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12:12 pm
Thu April 21, 2011

Texas Wildfire Chief: "We Are Making Successes"

Fire bosses say more humid weather will help them get a handle on blazes that have scorched over 1.4 million acres across Texas.
Photo by Official U.S. Air Force http://www.flickr.com/photos/usairforce/with/5638679968/

Media will receive a tour of wildfire scorched zones in the Possum Kingdom Lake area this afternoon, so we can expect to get a closer glimpse of the devastation this evening. The Fort Worth Star-Telegram reports that damper weather has helped prevent the wildfires from spreading more aggressively.

[O]vernight moisture, higher humidity and cooler temperatures temporarily lowered the danger of the fires further spreading, officials said.

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3:52 pm
Wed April 20, 2011

Texas Bans Marijuana-Like Substances K2, Spice

Products containing a synthetic THC-like substance are sometimes smoked in water pipes.
Photo by smokershighlife http://www.flickr.com/photos/smokershighlife/

The Texas Department of State Health Services waited until the day most marijuana users celebrate the drug to announce it is banning products that simulate cannabis. In a news release posted on its website, DSHS said it is banning substances found in products like K2 and Spice, effective this Friday, April 22.

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3:21 pm
Wed April 20, 2011

Feds Join Battle Against Possum Kingdom Wildfire

Wildfires burn out of control near Possum Kingdom Lake in this image from last Friday. The blaze has already destroyed more than 100 homes.
Photo by Texas Military Forces http://www.flickr.com/photos/texasmilitaryforces/

More than 600 homes are threatened in an area around Possum Kingdom Lake, about an hour west of the Dallas-Fort Worth area, after four wildfires merged into one.

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12:24 pm
Tue April 19, 2011

San Marcos Imposes Stage 1 Water Restrictions

Lawns in San Marcos won't be looking like this much longer, as the city adopts Stage 1 Water Restrictions on car washing, swimming pools...and lawn watering.
Photo by KUT News

Folks living in San Marcos will have to be careful how they use water, because of persistent dry conditions.

The City of San Marcos says that, because aquifer levels has dropped below average, they're preparing to implement Stage 1 Water Restrictions.

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5:12 pm
Sun April 17, 2011

Perry Issues Disaster Declaration

Governor Rick Perry issued a disaster declaration Sunday, as wildfires char parts of Texas
Photo by Jim Reese for KUT News

Governor Rick Perry is asking President Obama for a major disaster declaration, as wildfires continue to scorch sections of Texas.

From a news release issued Sunday by Governor Perry's office:

"A Major Disaster Declaration makes the state eligible for response and recovery assistance from the federal government. Texas' request includes:

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9:48 am
Sun April 17, 2011

Sunday Morning Update for April 17

Wildfires, like this one near San Angelo, continue to plague parts of North and West Texas
Image by Firefighter Daniel Hinckley, courtesy of the San Angelo Standard-Times

A calm, sunny Sunday in Central Texas, except if you're among the last-minute tax filers scrambling to meet tomorrow night's deadline income tax returns. Here are the other items making news this morning:

Wildfires Eat Up More Acreage, Structures

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4:00 pm
Fri April 15, 2011

Texplainer: How Will High Gas Prices Affect the Budget?

Photo by Erik Reyna for KUT News

Hey, Texplainer: What do high gasoline prices mean for the state budget?

Oil prices have risen recently, as unrest in the Middle East continues. Gasoline prices have gone up in tandem. In Texas, a gallon of gas costs a dollar more than a year ago. For state policymakers, a crucial question is how higher prices at the pump will affect Texas' estimated $15 billion to $27 billion budget gap. The answer, of course, is that it's complicated.

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2:27 pm
Thu April 14, 2011

Internet Security in Other Countries

The announcement that the Texas Comptroller's Office accidentally made public the personal information of about 3.5 million people online got us wondering in the KUT newsroom. How is online security different in the US from in other countries? 

Paolo Cunha Martins was happy to show us. 

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2:25 pm
Thu April 14, 2011

Ag Commissioner Sets Up Fire Relief Fund

Wildfires have devastated ranches and grasslands across West Texas
Photo courtesy Firefighter Jimmy Taylor, Austin Fire Department

After a tour of West Texas ranches and rangeland burned by wildfires, Texas Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples has set up a public donation fund to help ranchers whose land has been devastated.  He said the State of Texas Agricultural Relief Fund, or STAR Fund, is the best place to donate and give help.

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1:02 pm
Thu April 14, 2011

Forensic Science Commission Meets

The Walls Unit of the Huntsville Penitentiary, where Cameron Todd Willingham was executed in 2004. The state's Forensic Science Commission considers a final report on evidence in that case this week.
Image courtesy flickr.com/BizarreRecords

The state's Forensic Science Commission begins two days of meetings.  On their agenda will be discussion of a final report on the case of Cameron Todd Willingham.  A 1991 arson ruling convicted Willingham of setting fire to his Corsicana home and killing his three daughters. He was executed in 2004.

Several expert reviews of the evidence have indicated that the fire was an accident. 

7:43 am
Thu April 14, 2011

Top Morning Stories April 15, 2011

Favorable wildfire conditions are spreading east, according to the Texas Forest Service
Image courtesy Austin Fire Department

Wildfires Threaten More Areas of Texas

The Texas Forest Service says more parts of the state now need to be worried about the threat of wildfires. The agency says the area with significant fire potential will expand today to include parts of Central, North, and South Texas. That includes all areas west of line that curves down from just west of the Dallas-Fort Worth area, to Fredericksburg, to Del Rio. 

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4:25 pm
Wed April 13, 2011

Eminent Domain Passes House Test

The Texas House has tentatively approved a bill that changes some eminent domain rules
Photo by Nathan Bernier for KUT News

The Texas House has unanimously voted to pass a bill to place stricter limits on government seizure of land through eminent domain.  But it still has one more test before it heads to Governor Rick Perry's desk.

The bill would require governmental bodies to make a "bona fide" offer to land owners and to send a letter to the State Comptroller, detailing what the land would be used for.