As Bastrop fire still burns, other fire-affected areas focus on rebuilding

As Bastrop fire still burns, other fire-affected areas focus on rebuilding

16 September 2011

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USA — As crews continue to battle a blaze that has charred thousands of acres and destroyed numerous homes in Bastrop County, attention in other parts of Central Texas affected by fires earlier this month has shifted to assessing damage.

The Bastrop fire — the costliest in state history — was about 80 percent contained but still burning Friday night.

An increase in humidity and drop in temperatures has helped fire crews battle it, Texas Forest Service spokeswoman Victoria Koenig said.

“We’re optimistic with the current conditions, that if they hold we can increase that containment even more,” Koenig said. But she could not say when that fire would be fully contained.

“We’re steadily making progress,” Koenig said, adding that crews are still locating and suppressing a “considerable number” of hot spots. “That’s time consuming. That’s a large area, and it’s a very densely wooded area.”

In all, the fires have charred more than 41,020 acres in Leander, Cedar Park, Pflugerville, Steiner Ranch, Spicewood and Bastrop. At least 1,698 homes have been destroyed, mostly in Bastrop, and 53 have been damaged across Central Texas.

With the Bastrop fire still burning, those numbers could increase.

The cost of Central Texas fires will take time to firm up, Insurance Council of Texas spokesman Mark Hanna said.

“They’re still adjusting dollars and cents out there and trying to figure out what to put in everyone’s hands, and that’s going to take a bit of time,” Hanna said. Regardless, he said insurance money has begun changing hands.

“A lot of money has already been pumped back to these homeowners so they can get back on their feet,” Hanna said. “I would venture to guess 95 percent of everyone has already been contacted and spoken to insurance adjusters.”

Hanna estimated the Bastrop fire has caused $150 million in insured losses. That’s $45 million more than the insured losses from fires across the state in 2009, the previous most costly year on record in Texas. He did not have an estimate for the cost incurred in Travis and Williamson counties.

Statewide, Hanna estimated wildfires this year will cost $500 million in insured losses.

And that’s just financial losses. Two people were killed by the Bastrop blaze, and thousands of lives have been uprooted.

For now, federal financial aid is flowing in Bastrop, and it’s available for Travis and Williamson county residents affected by wildfires that sparked after Aug. 30. The two counties were added Wednesday to a presidential disaster declaration. That leaves out a number of fires that flared up in the area throughout August, including in Pflugerville and an Aug. 15 Leander fire that destroyed 15 homes.

At Thursday’s Leander City Council meeting, fire Chief Bill Gardner said he was hoping to mount an area-wide appeal to include the August fires.

Appeals to the federal disaster declaration have been successful elsewhere in the state. When the declaration was first issued in July, it did not include Jeff Davis County in far West Texas, where a wildfire in April that scorched hundreds of thousands of acres became the largest in state history. The county appealed and was added to the list in August.

Meanwhile, a long, harsh wildfire season is expected .

“October is the official start for wildfire season in Central Texas,” Gardner told the council. “We’re projecting that to be an extreme season.”

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