USA — After 12 days of battling East Texas’ worst wildfire, authorities announced on Thursday that the blaze had been completely contained and all evacuees could return home, even to the most devastated areas such as Remington Forest.
At final tally, 76 homes had been reduced to ash and 23 more seriously damaged in the nearly 19,000 acres that were scorched in Montgomery, Grimes and Waller counties.
More than half the burned acreage and 65 of the burned structures were in Waller County, said county spokeswoman Jennifer Duhon.
She said those who had lost their homes or suffered damage in the tri-county fire could apply for financial assistance and obtain clothing and food donations at a distribution center at 900 Business U.S. 290 in Hempstead.
Even though firefighters will be closely surveying the burn zone to check for flare-ups for at least three weeks, most residents said they were looking forward to getting back to normal routines such as the upcoming Waller County Fair.
After being allowed home Wednesday, 18-year-old Dawn Powell quickly turned her attention back to preening her young filly that she’s been training for nearly a year to show at the fair.
Danny and Jada Wiley are also checking out their four horses for the same fair. Jada will be waving a large U.S. flag as she weaves her steed through formations with the Bellville Heritage Cowgirls’ drill team when the fair kicks off Sept. 23. Her husband will display his skills as a team-roping contestant.
It will be déjà vu for the Powell and Wiley families when they return to the fairgrounds where they and their horses found refuge for nearly a week after being evacuated. Each family slept protectively near their animals, as did the owners of more than 100 displaced animals from pigs to ferrets at this makeshift zoo for refugees.
Now these grounds are being readied for the fair. Powell’s father, Gerald Powell, who is president of the fair association, never considered canceling the 66th annual fair.
The people behind the fair believe it will bring some sense of normalcy to this region that has witnessed so much destruction.
“There is more of this feeling of thanking God that we’ve made it through,” said Melisa Hegemeyer, the fair’s office manager.
Dawn’s mother, Cathy Powell, agreed: “Our fair is a long-standing tradition and the kids even get out of school for it. It brings us back to what’s normal.”