Bastrop County faces another wildfire


Bastrop County faces another wildfire  

04 October 2011

published bywww.statesman.com


USA —  Still reeling from last month’s devastating fire, residents in Bastrop County were once again forced to evacuate because of a 1,000-acre wildfire that firefighters were battling Tuesday night.

But emergency officials were quick to point out that this fire was different from the devastating Bastrop Complex fire in September. The presence of firefighting aircraft that weren’t available last time meant quick progress was made against the blaze. It was 25 percent contained by 8:30 p.m. Tuesday, officials said.

As of Tuesday night, no homes had been lost, said John Nichols , a spokesman with the Texas Forest Service. Fifty houses had been evacuated, but officials did not think they were in danger, he said.

“The fire is well away from those houses,” Nichols said.

The fire started for unknown reasons about 2:30 p.m. Tuesday at the Griffith League Scout Ranch near Oak Hill Cemetery Road off FM 2336, said Bastrop County sheriff’s office spokeswoman Sissy Jones.

Two hours later, the fire had grown to 100 acres; that would increase tenfold by nightfall.

“We ’bout had enough of fires for a while,” said Sylvanus Bates , whose son’s house is close to the area where the fire started but was not forced to evacuate. “It’s just so dry and hot. You never know what’s going to come next.”

Though the fire progressed rapidly, Nichols said that aircraft, including a DC-10, two C-130s and others, helped put a quick dent in the blaze.

When the September wildfires broke out in Bastrop County, aircraft were occupied fighting other fires and weren’t able to intervene early on, Nichols said.

“The air resources did a great job,” Nichols said. “They were from Austin, and they weren’t committed to anything else.”

Bastrop County Judge Ronnie McDonald , who was at the scene near the blaze, made it clear that this fire was different from the big one last month.

“We’ll be fighting this, rather than just evacuating people,” McDonald said. “We’re better prepared, and the wind conditions are down.”

Last month’s Bastrop County wildfires — which burned 34,000 acres, destroyed about 1,600 homes and killed two people — began Sept. 4 when wind-whipped trees crashed into overhead power lines, according to a report released by the Texas Forest Service.

Rebuilding is still weeks or months away for most people who lost homes, as the cleanup continues.

As of last week, homeowners had filed 1,500 insurance claims, with an estimate of $250 million in insured losses. About 10 percent of the homeowners were uninsured, according to the Insurance Council of Texas.

On Tuesday, many people in Bastrop County found themselves weary of another fire.

Kirk Obst , a City of Austin employee who lives near the fire zone, raced home Tuesday to get his pets to safety. His wife, Melody Obst, persuaded a constable to let her return to her neighborhood, and she got two dogs, a parrot and a turkey named Sweet Pea out of the house.

“We’re always on the alert since the last fire,” Kirk Obst said. “There’s not a whole lot you can do, but I have my truck and a trailer ready to load the animals, and everything else is second.”

He said he and his neighbors have started alerting the fire department any time they suspect a fire, even if it means “crying wolf.”

“Every time you see the winds and you see smoke, you’re on edge,” he said.

Bill Day , who lives on Crape Myrtle Drive adjacent to the ranch, was one of only about 15 people who evacuated to the Celebration Community Church.

He was watching TV when he heard emergency sirens, and then a sheriff’s deputy knocked on his door.

“He didn’t look like he was joking,” Day said.

“I went and got my two flutes” and left his house, he said.

Whether his home was safe remained in the front of his mind while at the shelter.

“It’s all I’ve got,” he said.

Nichols, the Texas Forest Service spokesman, said about 100 firefighters were on the scene.

They included state and local firefighters, many of whom were still recovering from the marathon firefighting sessions that took place last month.

But Nichols said that was just part of their jobs.

“This is what you do,” he said. “This is what you train to do. You’re helping your neighbors, and you’re helping the community.”

He added that residents need to still be cautious about starting fires.

“Texas is still in the middle of a bad fire season,” Nichols said. “Just because it’s cooler now, don’t get complacent.”


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