BASTROP, Texas — 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.

It destroyed 476 homes and about 250 firefighters were working around the clock, using bulldozers and pumper trucks against the fire, Bastrop County Judge Ronnie McDonald said.

Mike Fischer, the county emergency management director, said the fire is “nowhere near controlled,” and that a separate, smaller blaze south of the city is growing larger.

“I wasn’t going to evacuate, but then the smoke got blacker and blacker and it was like: ‘OK, time to go,’ ” said Gina Thurman, 47, an analyst for the Texas Workforce Commission.

“Waiting is the most frustrating thing,” she said, choking back tears as she sat by herself in the shade on a curb outside Ascension Catholic Church, one of several shelter sites. “You’re sitting there and you don’t know anything but your house is probably burning.”

Rick Blakely, 54, said when it finally would be time to return home, “I’m not expecting anything to be standing.”

He was among about 30 people who slept on cots at the church.

“There was someone who asked how I was and it’s a state of shock,” he said. “I just don’t know what I’m going to do.”

The new outbreak led Gov. Rick Perry to return home to Texas, cutting short a visit to South Carolina where he was campaigning for the Republican nomination for president. He also canceled a trip to California.

“The wildfire situation in Texas is severe and all necessary state resources are being made available to protect lives and property,” Perry said.