Grass fire destroys 15 homes in Leander; cause of blaze still under investigation

Grass fire destroys 15 homes in Leander; cause of blaze still under investigation

15 August 2011

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USA — Fifteen homes were destroyed and 189 others were evacuated Monday as a 30-acre grass fire spread rapidly amid extremely dry conditions.

Most, if not all, of the destroyed residences were mobile homes, said Lexi Maxwell, a spokeswoman for the Texas Forest Service. As of 8:30 p.m., the fire was about 50 percent contained, she said.

One resident was hospitalized for smoke inhalation, and four firefighters were treated at the scene for heat exhaustion, Maxwell said.

It was the latest fire in what has become a near-daily occurrence in Central Texas.

Over the weekend, a brush fire charred 250 acres in Burnet County, and five fires burned around Dripping Springs. Authorities there are investigating whether arson was the cause. A week ago, a fire burned 1,455 acres in Bastrop County, mostly in Camp Swift, a Texas National Guard facility. A camping fire that got out of control in Oak Hill in April destroyed 11 homes and damaged 10 others in Southwest Austin.

Crews from 15 area fire departments fought the Leander fire on Monday, and four law enforcement agencies were at the scene. Three helicopters spent the afternoon and early evening dropping water on the blaze, and three airplanes were used to spread fire retardant.

Neither the cause of the fire nor where it started had been determined, Maxwell said. Efforts to quell the fire were hampered by the “catastrophically dry conditions,” she said, as well as erratic, gusty winds.

Maxwell said the first 911 call came at 4 p.m. from an anonymous source.

Martha Valadez said she was at her job in Round Rock when her 15-year-old son called to say he saw fire in the neighborhood. Standing with her family at a gas station along U.S. 183, she said she told her son to leave the house and raced to her home.

“I got home and got my dog out, and by that time my yard was on fire,” she said.

Valadez said late Monday that she did not know the status of her home.

The Red Cross was serving dinner to as many as 100 evacuated people at the Leander Middle School gym, said agency spokesman Tom Davis.

They were expecting to spend the night there, and the Red Cross brought in cots, toiletries, teddy bears and other supplies for the evacuees.

Melinda Judge, an evacuee staying at the middle school, said that her neighbor’s trampoline melted but that she believed her home was OK.

Judge said the Red Cross has areas for families and pets and is “really taking good care of us.”

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