Two dozen firefighters battled a two-alarm structure fire …
Updated: Tuesday, 03 Mar 2009, 1:13 PM CST
Published : Saturday, 28 Feb 2009, 4:40 PM CST
BASTROP, TEXAS (KXAN) - The Bastrop Fire Department and the Texas Forest Service are reporting that the wildfire that began Saturday has spread over 1,200 acres in areas of Bastrop and Smithville. Nearly 60% of the fire has been contained as of Sunday morning. Specifically, the southside of Hwy 71 was in flames while the northside was being closely watched. The fire was caused by a fallen power line in a pasture north of Highway 71 at approximately 12:30 pm Saturday. Officials fought the fire, which they named the Wildnerness Ridge Fire, for most of Saturday night into Sunday morning. Their main focus throughout today is to save structures and protect lives.
The Texas Forest Service says that fire crews are supervising the area north of Hwy 71 where the flames are contained. They say that while crews are on mop up duty of the area, they are also watching to hot spots to ensure that they don't flare back up. Officials are saying that the wind speeds have decreased today, but that they are still high enough to create unpredictable fire behavior. Also, humidity levels are expected to drop later in the day which will increase the fire danger.
The smoke billowing from the fire could be seen for miles as the high winds whipped the blaze towards residential areas and business centers along the Colorado River. The area of the fire is known as the Piney Woods. At least 80 homes have been evacuated, with 25 already destroyed, across Bastrop County. At one point, over 200 homes were threatened. Nine businesses have also been lost including at several antique shops at the Alum Creek Center. (See raw footage of the Alum Creek Area at the bottom of this story and leave your comments.)
Initially 50 homes were evacuated, but as the fire spread, a Smithville subdivision was forced to evacuate as well. The evacuations have reportedly affected at least 150 residents. Specifically, the fire was initially fought in the area of Park Road 1 C, just north of Highway 71 E, which was partially closed down, but has since re-opened. Throughout the 750 acres affected, nearly 2/3 of it is in heavy timber. There are no serious injuries reported at this point. One firefighter was treated on scene for smoke inhalation and released.
The Bastrop Fire Department was assisted by 12 agencies, including 18 fire departments. The National Guard committed two air tankers, bulldozers and two black hawk helicopters, to combat the blaze. The Bastrop County Judge Ronnie McDonald signed a disaster declaration Saturday afternoon because of the need for more resources.
Area resident, Dan McDowell, described his experience in an email to KXAN.com, which included a photo of the smoke. "It was about 2:30 when I grabbed what I could fit in my car. The fire at this point was just down the hill from where I live on O'Grady Road. I was at work when my boss had got the call that there was a fire near my house. I took off and was amazed at how large scale the smoke was already. As I got close to the road I travel up (Cottletown Road) just past the Alum Creek area, the smoke was dense and moving at a swift pace across the road. As I made my way up the road the smoke thinned out and when I got to my house it was clear. Soon after I got there the Sheriff's office stopped by to announce a mandatory evacuation had been issued. I grabbed what was needed in 5 mins and left. Just as I stepped off the porch is when the smoke lifting behind the trees caught my attention. I took the picture and then started the car and left." McDowell was among the many area residents forced to evacuate the approaching flames.
The fire is the biggest forest fire that Bastrop has seen in over ten years. In 1998, a fire destroyed 32 homes. Firefighters could do little from the ground to contain the spreading flames on Saturday. The high winds were the cause of the quickly expanding fire. Winds speeds were recorded as up to 30 mph on the ground. The Texas Forest Service issued a wind warning on Friday to remind people of the heightened fire danger over the weekend.
Late Saturday fire officials were hoping to make a stand against the fire at the Colorado River. The high winds from Saturday were forecast to subside throughout the evening, giving a respite from the wind whipped flames the fire departments battled Saturday.
Evacuees are not allowed to return to their homes on Saturday. Evacuatees are being sheltered at the Smithville Recreation Center, the First Baptist Church in Smithville and the Heart of Pines Fire Department in Bastrop. The Smithville Recreation Center is located at 100 NW 2nd Street. The First Baptist Church is located at 101 W. Church Street. The Heart of Pines Fire Department is located at 804 Pecan Street in Bastrop. For assistance call 512-303-1080.
The Salvation Army and Red Cross are feeding the many law enforcement officers, fire fighters and other emergency personnel who will work through the night.