Crystal Chavez, KUT News

Morning Edition Producer

Crystal Chavez has been at KUT since January 2007.  She currently produces the Central Texas content for Morning Edition and starts her day in the newsroom at 4:30 a.m.  Crystal is a 2005 graduate of the University of Texas at Austin’s College of Communication.  Her hometown is Corpus Christi, Texas.

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News Brief
7:49 am
Wed September 28, 2011

Top Morning Stories September 28, 2011

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Brush Fire Destroys Alamo Film Set

The Texas Forest Service says the brush fire near Reimer’s Ranch in western Travis County is now 75 percent contained. The fire has burned more than 200 acres. Officials say it destroyed two park structures and about 8 structures from the movie set for the 2003 film “The Alamo. ”

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News Brief
6:12 am
Fri September 23, 2011

Top Morning Stories September 23, 2011

The Austin City Council Thursday approved a third new wind power contract.
Photo courtesy of Austin Energy.

More Wind to Power Austin

The Austin City Council has approved another wind power contract. This one is a 25-year agreement for 200 megawatts of coastal wind power from a project in Kenedy County, Texas. Power won't be flowing till the end of next year.

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News Brief
6:08 am
Thu September 22, 2011

Top Morning Stories September 22, 2011

The state of Texas executed Lawrence Russell Brewer Wednesday for the 1998 dragging death of James Byrd Jr.
Photo courtesy of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.

Brewer Executed for Jasper Dragging Death

Documented white supremacist gang member Lawrence Russell Brewer was executed in Texas yesterday. Brewer was put to death for the high-profile dragging death of James Byrd Jr., an African American man, in Jasper, Texas.

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News Brief
7:05 am
Wed September 21, 2011

Top Morning Stories September 21, 2011

Low lake levels, including at Lake Travis, have the LCRA considering reducing or cutting off water supplies to some farmers.
Photo by KUT News.

LCRA Vote Could Cut Off Water for Farmers

The Lower Colorado River Authority’s Board is scheduled to vote today on plans that could reduce or cut off water from the Highland Lakes to farmers. 

LCRA staff recommends cutting off water to farmers, if lake levels don’t fill up significantly and if dry conditions continue into next year. The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality would have to approve any of the LCRA’s plans.  Lakes Travis and Buchanan are a major water supply for Central Texas cities, including Austin.

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Austin
12:08 pm
Tue September 20, 2011

LCRA May Cut Off Water to Farmers

The Lower Colorado River Authority is considering reducing or cutting off water to farmers because of dropping lake levels and the ongoing drought.
KUT News

The Lower Colorado River Authority is considering asking the state for permission to reduce or cut off water from the Highland Lakes to farmers next year because of the ongoing drought and dropping lake levels. In a press release, the LCRA stated: 

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News Brief
6:05 am
Tue September 20, 2011

Top Morning Stories September 20, 2011

Free flu shot clinics in Travis County will open up starting on Wednesday.
Austin/Travis County Health and Human Services Department

It's Flu Shot Time Again...

The Austin/Travis County Health and Human Services Department is offering free flu shots for people who are uninsured, underinsured or on Medicare. Some of the flu clinics allow walk-ins others are by appointment only. 

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News Brief
5:23 am
Fri September 16, 2011

Top Morning Stories September 16, 2011

The U.S. Supreme Court has delayed the execution of death row inmate Duane Buck.
Photo courtesy of Andres Rueda/via Flickr

High Court Delays Texas Execution Over Racial Testimony

The U.S. Supreme Court put the brakes on the execution of Duane Buck, who was set to die in Texas last night. Buck’s lawyers argue he was sentenced to death on the basis of inflammatory testimony. Buck was given the death penalty for the murders of Debra Gardner and Kenneth Butler  in 1995. 

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Environment
1:42 pm
Thu September 15, 2011

Texas State System to Control Christmas Mountains

The Christmas Mountains will come under the administration of the Texas State University System.
Photo courtesy of the Texas General Land Office

The Christmas Mountains, near Big Bend National Park in West Texas, will stay in public hands.

This morning Texas Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson announced the remote 9,200-plus acre tract of land is being transferred to the Texas State University System.  It will be used for research and as an outdoor classroom for students.

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News Brief
6:06 am
Thu September 15, 2011

Top Morning Stories September 15, 2011

Control of the 9,269 acre Christmas Mountains (outlined in yellow) is expected to be turned over to the Texas State University System by the state's General Land Office
Image courtesy Texas General Land Office.

Christmas Mountains to Texas State University System

Texas Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson is expected to announce that the General Land Office will turn over control of the Christmas Mountains to the Texas State University System. Published reports indicate the wilderness area will be used as an outdoor lab and wilderness classroom. There had been discussion of selling the 9,200-plus acre land tract next to Big Bend National Park to a private owner, but it appears now that Sul Ross State University will take over administration of the West Texas land.

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News Brief
5:47 am
Wed September 14, 2011

Top Morning Stories September 14, 2011

Firefighters in Bastrop County are hoping stronger winds won't hurt efforts to contain the fire Wednesday.
Photo by Jeff Heimsath for KUT News.

Bastrop Firefighters on Alert for Today's Weather

The National Weather Service says Central Texas will have near critical fire weather conditions this afternoon and this evening. Winds will pick up with possible wind gusts of up to 25 miles per hour.

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News Brief
5:47 am
Tue September 13, 2011

Top Morning Stories September 13, 2011

Bastrop County officials say the Bastrop Complex fire is now 70 percent contained.
Photo by KUT News.

Update 10:08 a.m.

Texas Parks & Wildlife says there is a misperception that Bastrop State Park is open to the public today. The TPWD says the park is not open and will stay closed (from Gottier Trace and Park Road 1C to the west) at least through October while wildfire damages are assessed.

Disaster Recovery Center Opening in Bastrop

Starting today people affected by the Bastrop County wildfires can meet face to face with state and federal disaster recovery officials. Representatives from the state, FEMA and the U.S. Small Business Administration will help people get registered for aid. The new Disaster Recovery Center will be open every day of the week. 

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News Brief
5:59 am
Mon September 12, 2011

Top Morning Stories September 12, 2011

Firefighters are in their second week of battling the Bastrop County Complex fire.
Jeff Heimsath for KUT News

Update 9:04 AM:

The Texas Forest Service says the Bastrop County Complex fire is now 60 percent contained.

Bastrop Officials Revise Missing Persons List

While firefighters continue to battle the Bastrop County Complex fire, officials are trying to make sure everyone is accounted for. Bastrop County officials say as of last night eight people were still unaccounted for.  They’re asking these people to check in with them:

Barbara Bunklage

Mark and Ethel Ehato

Steve Ingram

Arlene Paige

Ted and Loraine Regan

Lindsey Walker

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News Brief
5:17 pm
Fri September 9, 2011

Wildfire Updates September 9, 2011

A power meter melted by flames in the Bastrop community of Tahitian Village
Photo by Jeff Heimsath for KUT News

Update at 5:17 p.m.

The Texas Forest Service says crews are "continuing to mop up and patrol" the Bastrop County wildfire. The blaze is 34,068 acres and is still 30 percent contained, however that containment figure hasn't changed in days but firefighters have grown increasingly optimistic that they are gaining the upper hand. Therefore, it might not be the best measure of the progress being made.

The Austin Fire Department still has firefighters and equipment helping to combat the blaze in Bastrop County. 

We are not expecting another update on the Bastrop Complex fire this afternoon. Public safety officials have been giving two updates a day this week, but opted only to hold a morning briefing today.

A DC-10 jet is now dropping fire retardant over a wildfire north of Houston. The aircraft had originally been scheduled to help control the Bastrop Complex fire, but was directed to help quell a blaze in Montgomery, Grimes and Waller counties.

Smithville ISD and Bastrop ISD are still both planning to resume classes on Monday.

Update at 3:10 p.m.

The Bastrop County Office of Emergency Management says municipal water supplies in Bastrop and Smithville are safe for drinking. Aqua Water, however, is still requiring most people in Bastrop County to boil their water.

Displaced evacuees requesting aid need to contact the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) directly, even if they are registered at a shelter or the Bastrop convention center. Individuals won’t be eligible for FEMA aid until a federal disaster declaration is granted, but they can still pre-register online.

Three firefighters died this year combating wildfires in Texas. Two were from Texas. One was from Idaho. They will be remembered, along with those who perished in the 9/11 attacks, at a remembrance ceremony tomorrow from 10 a.m. to noon at the Lady Bird Johnston Wildflower Center.

The developments over the last few days have us a lot more interested in wildfire videos. Here are some educational videos that can teach us a thing or two about wildfires. 

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Austin
5:35 pm
Thu September 8, 2011

Central Texas Wildfire Updates September 8, 2011

Burned trees and ground at Union Chapel Hill area on Hwy 21
Photo by Lizzie Chen for KUT News and ReportingTexas.com

Find all new updates on the wildfires here.

Update at 5:36 p.m.

Here's where we stand this evening:

The Bastrop Complex fire is still 30 percent contained at about 34,000 acres. Officials say firefighters are focusing on saving undamaged structures. They hope to get a big helping hand from a DC-10 jet airliner that will begin dropping retardant tomorrow morning, up to 12,000 gallons at a time. Another update on Bastrop isn't expected until around 10:30 a.m. Friday. (Story)

Some Bastrop residents were allowed to return to their homes today. Bastrop County's emergency management coordinator Mike Fisher said "the risk is so slight" of flare ups in those areas that he's confident they'll be safe.

Counselors have been helping Bastrop evacuees cope with the stress of the situation. (Story)

The wildfire in Steiner Ranch is now 80 percent contained, up from 75 percent this morning. The Pedernales One/Spicewood fire is 100 percent contained.

Conditions are said to be improving in the 6,000 acre Bastrop State Park, all but 100 acres of which has been touched by flames. Firefighters were able to protect most of the historic Depression-era buildings that dot the park. (Story)

You already knew it was a hot summer in Texas. Turns out, it was the hottest summer ever recorded in the United States.

The American Red Cross will distribute supplies to Bastrop County fire victims until 8 p.m. at the Home Depot at 112 Hunters Crossing, Bastrop, TX  78602.

Want to help? Do512.com has the most authoritative list so far on shows benefiting wildfire victims. The Facebook page Central Texas Wildfire Recovery lists events. You can also now donate $10 to the United Way's Central Texas Wildfire Relief fund by texting "WILDFIRE" to 85944.

If you haven't seen it already, check out this satellite photo of the Bastrop burn zone.

Update at 3:43 p.m.

People whose homes or businesses were ravaged by wildfire are exempt from paying sales tax on some fire recovery-related expenses. The Texas Comptroller says that includes the cost of repairs, charges for cutting dead trees, and services to restore damaged furniture. Full details here.

The air quality in Austin is forecast to be poor tomorrow. The Clean Air Force of Central Texas has issued a Level Orange Ozone Watch for Friday.

The United States Forest Service says a DC-10 airplane with a 12,000 gallon tank will begin dropping fire retardant tomorrow on the wildfire zones.

The Pedernales One/Spicewood fire is now fully contained, but the Pedernales Fire Department needs donations for its firefighters. They’re asking for Vitamin Water Zero, pigskin work gloves and Clif Bars. More details on their Facebook page.

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Austin
6:54 pm
Wed September 7, 2011

Central Texas Wildfire Updates September 7, 2011

Two Bastrop residents survey a mapping showing the burn zone of the wildfire.
Photo by Reshma Kirpalani for KUT News and ReportingTexas.com

Update Thursday, September 8:

You can find the latest fire updates on today's post.

Update at 6:50 p.m.

Here's where we stand this evening:

Public safety officials have released the name of one of the victims of the Bastrop fire. His name was Michael Troy Farr and he was 48 years old. The identity of the second victim has not been released.

Farr was a City of Austin employee. Mayor Lee Leffingwell has issued is condolences.

"I am deeply saddened to hear of the death of a City of Austin employee. Our sympathies go out to the friends and family of Troy Farr," Leffingwell said in a statement. "As a member of the City of Austin family since 2003, Troy will be greatly missed."

Some Bastrop residents learned whether their homes has been destroyed after the county released a partial list of addresses of burned out structures. 

“The list says our house has structural loss so, we don’t know what that means, but at least it’s better than not knowing I guess – hopefully we’ll be able to get up there soon and find out what’s still there," Jenna Munion told KUT News.

Fire officials have not provided any update on the degree to which the Bastrop Complex fire under control since this morning. At that point, they had said it was 30 percent contained.

Evacuated Spicewood residents are back home and evaluating the damage. Between 65 and 75 homes were touched by the flames. Some people lost everything. (Story)

President Obama called Governor Perry to talk about the Texas wildfires today. According to a statement from the White House, Obama extended his condolences and said the federal government was here to help. Governor Perry is scheduled to debate GOP presidential contenders tonight in Simi Valley, California. One of the core themes of Perry's campaign is that the size and scope of federal power needs to be reduced.

NPR's John Burnett reports on how Texas' historic drought and record-breaking wildfires have not affected Perry's skepticism of climate change, potentially an important issue if Perry seeks to win a general election. (Story)

Update at 4:54 p.m.

Texas is requesting a major disaster declaration from the United States government, which would allow access to federal disaster relief funds. (Story)

Do512.com is compiling a list of disaster relief benefits and asking people to submit any events not already on the list.

Update at 4:34 p.m.

Bastrop County Judge Ronnie McDonald said he expects the count of destroyed homes to "double" when people are allowed back into the burn zone.  Bastrop County officials currently count 576 structures destroyed. The Texas Forest Service says the number is closer to 800. 

McDonald said last night was the first night that no additional structures were lost. He says additional resources are helping firefighters get a handle on the blaze.

The superintendent of Bastrop ISD says schools are still tentatively scheduled to open Monday.

The Union Chapel fire, which started in the Cedar Creek area, is now 90 percent contained.

Meanwhile, Bluebonnet Electric has been surveying the damage to electrical lines and will begin restoration work Thursday morning. It aims to post estimated restoration times on its website. This is only for the top part of the disaster area. Bluebonnet crews are not allowed into the burn zone between highways 21 and 71.

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