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Smoke From Texas Fires Have Doctors Concerned for At-Risk Citizens

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Sept. 8: Smoke could be seen Thursday morning over Austin, Texas. (MyFoxAustin.com)

A thick cloud of smoke caused by wildfires in Texas could be seen covering Austin, the state's capital on Thursday morning, prompting doctors to warn residents about the risk of prolonged activity in the area that has seen its air quality reach a 14-year low.

The air quality was damaged by the fire and other factors like pollen and viruses spreading at the start of school. Children with asthma and adults with chronic respiratory problems are the most susceptible to illness, MyFoxAustin.com reported. 

And doctors have seen an overall increase in young patients since the fires' outbreak.

"Small children and babies can't say what's going on, that they're having eye itching and eye problems, watch them for any type of respiratory distress, fast breathing, coughing, any kind of nasal congestion," said Dr. Bennie McWilliams, a pediatric pulmonary specialist.

Meanwhile Texas firefighters are expected to make gains in their battle against the most destructive of the dozens of wildfires burning across the drought-parched state.

The largest fire is burning in Bastrop, about 25 miles southeast of Austin, where fires have destroyed nearly 800 homes and charred about 33,000 acres. The fire was still largely uncontained as of Wednesday, but predicted temperatures were forecast to fall into the 50s and low 60s overnight, which should aid firefighters.

"Our temperature is going to drop down very low, which will increase our firefighting efforts dramatically. We will be able to do a lot of work," said Troy Ducheneaux, a regional fire coordinator for the Texas Forest Service, late Wednesday.

But firefighters can't yet use one of their biggest weapons against the blaze: a converted DC-10 jetliner from California capable of dropping 12,000 gallons of fire retardant. The jetliner arrived in Austin on Wednesday, but it won't be used until Friday morning because officials couldn't find a qualified pilot to fly it, said Holly Huffman, a Forest Service spokeswoman.

The agency is facing competition for qualified pilots from other states, particularly California, that are also fighting blazes, she said.

The fire is among more than 170 wildfires that ignited across Texas this week that have left nearly 1,200 homes in charred ruins, killed four people and forced thousands to evacuate. It's one of the most devastating wildfire outbreaks in Texas history and has made this fire season the costliest on record, with $216 million in firefighting expenses since late 2010.

One of the two people killed was identified Wednesday as Michael Troy Farr, 49, who died at his home in Smithville.

Please click here for more from MyFoxAustin.com.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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