With wildfires raging outside of Austin, Gov. Rick Perry is leaving the campaign trail to return to his home state, the governor's office confirmed this morning.
“The wildfire situation in Texas is severe and all necessary state resources are being made available to protect lives and property,” Perry said in a statement. “I urge Texans to take extreme caution as we continue to see the devastating effects of sweeping wildfires impacting both rural and urban areas of the state."
Perry was slated to be part of a GOP presidential forum this afternoon in Columbia, S.C. — his first nationally televised event with fellow contenders Mitt Romney, Michele Bachmann, Ron Paul, Newt Gingrich and Herman Cain.
Perry offered to appear remotely from Texas, but organizers said it wasn't possible with such short notice.
"The time frame and the technical problems unfortunately didn't appear to be working out," said Andresen Blom, executive director of the American Principles Project, which is co-sponsoring the televised forum. Blom said the group would invite Perry to return to South Carolina to appear before a panel that includes influential South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint, a leading figure in the Tea Party movement.
Now he's homeward bound instead, putting even more pressure on Wednesday night's Republican presidential debate in Simi Valley, California. "He's planning to go to the debate," Perry campaign spokesman Mark Miner said.
The Texas Forest Service has responded to 63 new fires this weekend, that have burned roughly 33,000 acres in Bastrop, Travis, Henderon, Limestone, Caldwell and Colorado counties. Hundreds of Central Texas homes have been destroyed since Sunday afternoon. Perry's office said the state has deployed 15 single-engine air tankers, 12 helicopters and 13 aerial supervision aircraft assets to help with the fire-fighting.
Perry will head home from Myrtle Beach, S.C., where he was speaking at an event hosted by U.S. Rep. Tim Scott. A spokeswoman in the governor's office said there were not plans yet for the governor to tour the wildfire sites — he doesn't want to be in the way of firefighting efforts — but that he was closely monitoring the situation.
Today's candidate forum is a practice round of sorts. The candidates won't be able to spar with each other on the issues, but they'll get a sense of the lines of questioning — and follow-ups — they might face in a series of scheduled debates, the first of which is Wednesday.