By Jim Forsyth
SAN ANTONIO (Reuters) - Some of the hundreds of residents evacuated last week in a Texas wildfire that hit a pine forest southeast of Austin are being allowed to return to stricken areas, officials said on Tuesday.
The so-called Hidden Pines fire in Bastrop County has scorched nearly 4,600 acres, or about 7 square miles, and was 80 percent contained as of Tuesday, the Texas A&M Forest Service said. The blaze destroyed nearly 70 homes, it added.
"The fire conditions are such that we will be able to allow a qualified resident re-entry program," said Paul Pape, the Bastrop County judge, the county's top elected official.
"Many people will go to their homes today and find nothing left," Pape said. "They will have to assess that situation and deal with it in their hearts and minds and find a way forward."
More than 400 people were evacuated from their homes at the height of the fire, which hit an area that has not seen rain for weeks. The blaze was likely started by farm equipment.
Texas Governor Greg Abbott last week declared a state of disaster in the county and sought federal aid. The fire affected the same pine forest area where a 2011 wildfire burned through some 34,000 acres.
(Writing by Jon Herskovitz; Editing by Mohammad Zargham)