Wildfire causes 4-hour evacuation of Rotan

Wildfire causes 4-hour evacuation of Rotan

14 April 2011

published by www.reporternews.com

USA — The entire town of Rotan — all 1,400 or so people — reportedly was evacuated by law enforcement Thursday evening when a flame-breathing wildfire that originated in Kent County rapidly burned southeast into Fisher County.

The order to leave the city and go south on State Highway 70 to Roby, 10 miles away, was made about 6:30 p.m. A Department of Public Safety trooper said all residents left town, giving Rotan an eerie ghost-town look.

Later, there was fear that even Roby could be threatened by the wildfire if it advanced past Rotan.

By 10:30 p.m., the OK was given by law enforcement for residents to return home.

Visibility on Highway 70 was limited because of thick smoke and the road was clogged with motorists and lined with firefighting vehicles.

There was no immediate report of any lost structures in the fire’s path. No injuries were reported.

A fire official on the scene said plowed fields north of Rotan slowed the fire and firefighters were able to further ­prevent its advance on the city.

Sean Lee and his fiancee, Caila Thornton, said they could see flames beyond a field that is across from their north Rotan home. They said they were at home watching TV about 7 p.m., when a deputy sheriff knocked on their door and told them to leave town.

They took only a few clothes for their 2-year-old son, Caisen Lee, and drove to Roby, where they stayed with Sean Lee’s uncle “until they heard the all clear on the TV news,” Sean Lee said.

His mother, Joanna Lee, also left the city in a hurry and said she had “never seen anything like this” in her eight years living in Rotan.

Before the green light was given to return home, roads were closed and dense smoke was reported in the county, ash flakes were seen in counties to the east and southeast, and air was smoky by 10 p.m. in Abilene.

The wildfire — called the Cooper Mountain Ranch Fire — started earlier in the week in sparsely populated Kent County and burned more than 20,000 acres.

It was only 50 percent contained before rapidly moving southeast into adjoining Fisher and Stonewall counties.

Homes north of Rotan, which is located in the northwest corner of Fisher County, were the first to be endangered before an evacuation of the city was ordered.

State Highway 70 and FM 610 were closed at their intersection north of Rotan, said Marq Webb of the Texas Forest Service.

Highway 70 north of Jayton already had been closed, he said.

Webb reported that the fire, fueled by strong winds out of the northwest, was exhibiting “extreme fire behavior” and is growing despite the earlier containment in some areas.

In addition to local volunteer firefighters, TFS, Texas Intrastate Fire Mutual Aid System and Texas Department of Transportation resources are being used to battle the blaze.

In Stephens County, good progress was reported on three existing fires. The 125-acre PK West Fire and the 80-acre Jackson Ranch Fire both are fully contained. The 300-acre Lucas Fire is reportedly 90 percent contained.

A new fire was reported Thursday in Knox County. This fire spread to about 150 acres and was reported as 50 percent contained by evening.

A cold front is expected to pass through the area today, bringing with it extremely dry air and strong winds, according to the National Weather Service in San Angelo.

Red flag warnings are in effect for most of the Big Country.

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