2011-09-08 / Front Page

Massive Fire Devastates Our Neighbor, Bastrop

Congressman Michael McCaul (center) and Representative Tim Kleinschmidt (second from right) meet with area firefighters Monday afternoon. Congressman Michael McCaul (center) and Representative Tim Kleinschmidt (second from right) meet with area firefighters Monday afternoon. Texas Forest Service spokeswoman, Victoria Koenig, said, “It is too early to say how much progress was made fighting the wildfire in Bastrop County overnight, but there were no winds early Tuesday. The fire, which started on Sunday, destroyed at least 25,000 acres on Monday and more than 500 homes. As of Tuesday morning, the fire grew to 28,500 acres and another 300 residents were evacuated.”

“It’s encouraging we don’t have winds right now, not like yesterday, but the fire is dangerously close to Bastrop City Limits,” Koenig said early Tuesday morning.

Even with the encouraging conditions, Koenig said it was a “tough, tough fire” that was raging through rugged terrain, including a ridge of hills.

At least 5,000 people were forced from their homes in Bastrop County and about 400 were in emergency shelters, officials said Monday. School and school- related activities for Bastrop and Smithville were temporarily canceled.

Nearly 400 personnel are on the ground from the Texas Forest Service and local fire crews. The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department reported that most of the 6,000-acre Bastrop State Park has been burned and historic structures within the park continue to be threatened.

Texas State Representative Tim Kleinschmidt reported to the Leader that he was at the command center Monday afternoon and planned to return to the Center Tuesday and probably Wednesday. “As I drove in to the Command Center, the devastation was so overwhelming that it’s a miracle no one has been hurt in this fire,” said Kleinschmidt.

Congressman Michael McCaul said, “This is the worst fire Texas has ever had. The area looks like a nuclear explosion has taken place.”

Both Kleinschmidt and McCaul were at a press conference Monday evening with Governor Rick Perry and Bastrop County Judge Ronny McDonald, at which the Governor said, “These fires are serious and widespread, and as mean as I have ever seen.”

“Our primary focus is on safety and protecting lives, and Texans need to heed all warnings, especially evacuation warnings from local officials,” Perry continued.

State resources assisting with wildfire response include Texas Forest Service personnel and aviation assets, including 15 single- engine air tankers, 12 helicopters and 13 aerial supervision aircraft assets deployed to multiple fires; Texas Military Forces, with 2 CH-47 Chinook Aircraft, and 3 UH-60 Blackhawks assisting with fires in Bastrop County, 1 UH- 60 Blackhawk staged in Austin to fight central Texas fires, 2 UH-60 Blackhawks assisting with the fires in Colorado County, and 3 ground wildfire support packages consisting of 4 dozers and 16 personnel each.

Texas Department of Public Safety emergency management personnel, highway patrol troopers, air assets and a mobile communications center deployed to Bastrop County, and Texas Department of Transportation is providing personnel, equipment and fuel to responders.

In the past seven days Texas Forest Service has responded to 181 fires that have burned more than 118,400 acres, including new fires in Bastrop, Travis, Henderson, Limestone, Caldwell, Colorado, Montgomery and Grimes counties, among others.

Since the beginning of wildfire season, local and state firefighters have responded to more than 20,900 fires that have destroyed more than 1,000 homes and burned more than 3.6 million acres, which is about the size of Connecticut.

According to Linda Kidd of Lexington, some area churches that have opened their doors to donations, as of Tuesday morning for Bastrop fire evacuees, include Knobbs Springs Baptist Church, which will accept donations beginning at 9 a.m. each day, and Blue United Methodist Church, accepting donations from 6 a.m. to 11 a.m. daily. Immediate needs include blankets, towels, wash cloths, canned and other nonperishable food, toiletries and pet food.

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