BASTROP, Texas (KXAN) — For the time being, the state is pressing pause on carrying out any more prescribed burns at the Bastrop State Park after one got out of control there last week, burned more than 800 acres and threatened homes.
The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TWPD) announced Wednesday that the temporary suspension on prescribed burns also applies to Buescher State Park in Smithville, as the agency shared who will be part of an independent panel to review what happened during the Rolling Pines Fire in Bastrop.
According to a news release, the panel, which the Texas A&M Forest Service ordered, will include five wildland fire experts from state forestry agencies in Florida, Georgia, Oklahoma and South Carolina. TWPD noted these experts are familiar with how fire reacts in places “with similar ecosystems, fuel types, fire culture, land use, land ownership, prescribed fire programs and wildland fire response.”
A statement from Wes Moorehead, the fire chief for the Texas A&M Forest Service, read, “Our role in this review is helping acquire the review team. Through an interagency ordering system, Texas A&M Forest Service has the ability to bring in resources from states with similar burn programs for such reviews. While our agency is not part of the actual review team, we are glad to help TPWD by facilitating the ordering process.”
TPWD explained objectives for the review will include reviewing preparation, planning and execution of the Bastrop prescribed fire; evaluating staff, equipment and safety resources; determining whether the burn plan met best practices related to prescribed fire; and coming up with recommendations for the agency.
Carter Smith, TPWD’s executive director, said in a statement Wednesday that the agency supports this independent review.
“Prescribed burns are a carefully calculated risk but are essential in managing many of our habitats, landscapes and private and public lands across Texas, including the iconic Lost Pines Forest at Bastrop,” Smith said. “We are committed to using the highest safety and operational standards with our prescribed burn program and look forward to a thorough evaluation of not only the events that unfolded with the planning and execution of the prescribed fire, but our response upon recognition the fire had escaped. Ultimately, any and all lessons learned from the review will help make our fire program better and safer.”
This announcement comes after both state and local leaders promised a full investigation into what happened during the Bastrop fire. 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. He further stated, “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.”
Residents forced to evacuate their homes and livestock told KXAN that they wanted leaders to be held accountable for the Bastrop wildfire.