A roaring wildfire raced unchecked Monday through rain-starved farm and ranchland in Central Texas, destroying nearly 500 homes during a rapid advance fanned in part by howling winds from the remnants of Tropical Storm Lee.

At least 5,000 people were forced from their homes in Bastrop County about 25 miles east of Austin, many of them fearing the worst while spending the night in emergency shelters. Huge clouds of smoke soared into the sky and hung over downtown Bastrop, a town of about 6,000 people along the Colorado River.

The blaze consumed as much as 25,000 acres along a line that stretched for about 16 miles, Texas Forest Service officials said