Republican presidential contender Rick Perry canceled plans to appear at a candidate forum in South Carolina on Monday, the Texas governor returning home to oversee the fast-moving wildfires that have ravaged the state. He still plans to travel to Simi Valley, Calif., later this week for Wednesday’s debate at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library & Museum, his spokesman said.

Firefighters are struggling to contain more than a dozen wildfires sweeping through Texas, which have led to the death of a 20-year-old woman and her 18-month-old daughter as well as the destruction of at least 38 homes. More than 20,000 acres have been burned by the blazes fueled by drought conditions and wind systems sparked by Hurricane Irene.

Perry canceled the rest of his South Carolina schedule and withdrew from Monday’s Palmetto Freedom Forum, sponsored by the American Principles Project. Participants in the forum, which was scheduled to be broadcast on CNN, will appear on stage one at a time for a question-and-answer session with South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint, Rep. Steve King of Iowa and Robert George, the founder of the American Principles Project and a Princeton University professor.

“Gov. Perry’s first priority is to the people of Texas during this natural disaster,” Perry’s communications director, Ray Sullivan, said in a statement Monday. “The governor is in close communication with emergency operations officials regarding fires in Texas, including discussions with emergency management leaders over the weekend and this morning.”

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