BASTROP COUNTY, Texas (KXAN) — Bastrop County Judge Paul Pape issued a statement to all residents of the county, reassuring them that he’ll work with the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department to “know every detail” about what started the Rolling Pines Fire.
The fire, that started on Tuesday after embers from a controlled burn in Bastrop State Park ignited areas outside of the burn’s boundaries, is now 70% contained and has burned 812 acres. It forced the evacuations of about 250 families, but fire crews were able to keep it from burning any occupied structures or injuring anybody.
Pape’s statement Friday said, in part, “I have asked Texas Parks and Wildlife for a full accounting of what happened, what went wrong, what mistakes were made, what has been learned, and how what has been learned will be used to better protect the lives and property of our residents in the future.”
During a press conference Tuesday night after the fire had burned approximately 640 acres, Pape stood in solidarity with TPWD officials, saying the agency was well within its right to continue with a prescribed burn, even though winds picked up during the day.
“I’m very thankful that Parks and Wildlife will use their resources and skilled personnel to exercise prescribed burns when appropriate in Bastrop County. Based on everything they knew this morning, it was an appropriate day to burn,” Pape said after Carter Smith with TPWD explained the agency’s protocol on controlled and prescribed burns. “Now, none of us can predict the weather more than 15 minutes ahead of time, and sometimes things happen we just don’t anticipate. I’m not going to be critical of the efforts to protect our citizens from wildfire by using prescribed burns. It’s a great tool.”
In his statement Friday, Pape took a different tone.
“To be clear, Texas Parks and Wildlife did not ask for our permission to conduct a prescribed burn this
past Tuesday, nor did we give them permission to do so,” he said. “As a state agency, they conduct these events under the direction of a fire boss using national standards for prescribed burns. I have made it clear to TPWD that the use of controlled burns in Bastrop County must never again threaten our citizens or their residences.”
Pape pointed out that the lack of prescribed burns, that are meant to get rid of underlying fuel for potential fires under close supervision, was one of the factors that contributed to the most destructive wildfire in Texas history, the Bastrop Complex Fire in 2011.
Residents in Bastrop County are especially sensitive to fires after what happened in 2011. The Complex Fire burned for 55 days and destroyed 1,600 homes and burned 32,000 acres. Some that talked to KXAN were angry the prescribed burn went on when it was windy.
When I see a fire like this, and I see the way this fire started, I really get … I get upset,” John Ricke said. “Because this was unnecessary.” Ricke has lived in the county since 1958 and his sister’s home burned in the 2011 fire.
“Our officials chose to burn on a windy day KNOWING the risks,” wrote Shelby L. in a message to KXAN. “They should be held liable for all the loss! The people of Bastrop need to know how reckless their elected officials are. We lost so much in 2011, how dare they put us in this situation AGAIN!”