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Rick Perry's Hellfire: The GOP Candidate Continues to Deny the Climate Change Linked to the Fires Consuming His State

The Global warming-denying governor and presidential candidate can't escape a major reckoning at home.

George Bush Park burst into flames on Sept. 13, one month to the day after Texas Gov. Rick Perry announced his candidacy for president of the United States. In a summer of fierce wildfires across Texas, the George Bush Park blaze was the first big fire to erupt inside the city limits of a major metropolis -- in this case, Houston, the nation's fourth largest city and the headquarters of the oil and gas industry, a major contributor to the man-made global warming that Gov. Perry famously insists does not exist.

The national media overlooked the George Bush Park fire, just as they ignored the link between climate change and the hellish summer Texas experienced, but the fire was big news in Houston. Local TV stations showed trees burning like torches, unleashing orange flames and black smoke.No evacuations were ordered, but guests at nearby hotels were spooked. "The hallways in the hotel here, you can hardly breathe," said hotel guest Shawn Porter. "It's in all the rooms. They're getting filled with smoke." 

It took helicopters and fire trucks three days to get the fire 95 percent contained, according to the Texas Forest Service. By then, 1,623 acres had burned, an area the size of two Central Parks in New York City.

A week later, the park, which was named after the senior President Bush, was still recovering but back in service. Seeking relief from the 98-degree heat, a German Shepherd splashed in a pond named after Bush's White House dog, Millie, while the pop-pop-pop of pistol shots rang out from one of the park's practice ranges. In the burned area, however, the soil was still charred, the grass burned away. The trunks of shrubs and trees were as black and lifeless as charcoal.

Sizable though it was, the George Bush Park fire was a minor fire in the context of Texas 2011. Some 3.7 million acres of Texas have burned in the last 12 months, an area roughly equal to the state of Connecticut. Fires are still burning today, as the  Texas Forest Service reports, yet Gov. Perry has offered little in the way of relief but the power of prayer and positive thinking.

"We'll be fine," Perry said in mid-August. "As my dad [a retired cotton farmer] says, 'It'll rain. It always does.'"

Perry's followers among evangelical Christians like to talk about the "end of days," when the Lord will return to judge the living and the dead. The ferocious heat and drought that have been punishing Texas for the last 12 months made it seem that the end of days might well be approaching, though not exactly in the way Gov. Perry and fellow evangelicals mean. As one region of the Lone Star State after another has been engulfed in flames and smoke, Texas appeared to have descended into the fires of hell.

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When President Obama criticized Perry on Sept. 25 as being "the governor of a state that is on fire [while he is] denying climate change," Obama probably had in mind the fires in Bastrop, a bedroom community 25 miles east of Austin, the Texas capital. The Bastrop fires were so powerful, photogenic and devastating that they received not just statewide but national news coverage.

Responding to Obama, Perry spokesman Mark Miner told ABC News, "It’s outrageous President Obama would use the burning of 1,500 homes, the worst fires in state history, as a political attack."

With Texas suffering the most severe one-year drought in the state's history and the hottest summer in the entire nation's history, firefighters were supremely challenged. In Bastrop, the heat of the fire "was so intense, our firefighters couldn't get close enough to fight it [at first]. They had to shift to evacuation mode," said Judge Ronnie McDonald, Bastrop's highest-ranking local official.

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