Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst said Wednesday he would sign a request for the federal government to declare Texas a major disaster area. The White House later said President Barack Obama had telephoned Perry to make it clear the federal government will continue to provide assistance to state and local officials fighting the fire.
Obama also assured Perry that requests for additional assistance would be quickly assessed.
At the Bastrop convention center, residents streamed in to check maps taped to the pillars that showed the destruction.
Faye Tucker said she could tell just by looking at the map that her home of 20 years was gone, even though it wasn't among the addresses listed as destroyed. She and her husband had recently spent $20,000 to renovate the place.
"It's just stuff. I think that the thing to keep in mind here is so far we only have two confirmed deaths. ... So I'll take that," she said.
Perry returned to the campaign after cutting short a visit to South Carolina on Sunday.
"I'm a little disappointed after what he said the other day about pushing politics aside because Texans are his first priority," said Guylaine Williett, who lives near an area that was severely burned. "Now he's out on the campaign trail when us Texans are here in need."
Veteran GOP analyst Alex Castellanos said three days on the ground coordinating state efforts was long enough.
"The public understands his job is to be governor, not fireman," said Castellanos, who worked on President George W. Bush's re-election campaign and more recently worked for Perry opponent Mitt Romney. "Americans know he can meet both his responsibilities as governor and as a Republican candidate."
Before Wednesday night's debate, Perry discussed the fires while chatting backstage with some of his fellow candidates. Herman Cain and then Mitt Romney asked the governor how Texas was faring.
"Have they been brought under control?" Romney asked, talking across the room to Perry.
"It's still too early to tell," Perry responded. "They're serious, they're mean."
Associated Press writers Jim Vertuno in Bastrop; Danny Robbins, Diana Heidgerd and Schuyler Dixon in Dallas; Will Weissert in Austin; Paul Weber in San Antonio and Kasie Hunt in Simi Valley, Calif., contributed to this report.
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