Austin
6:54 pm
Wed September 7, 2011

Central Texas Wildfire Updates September 7, 2011

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.

Update at 3:20 p.m.

Evacuated Spicewood residents are returning home after being forced out by the Pedernales One wildfire on Sunday. The blaze is 90 percent contained, but it damaged dozens of homes. Some people lost everything. (Story)

Texas Lieutenant-Governor David Dewhurst was due in Bastrop this afternoon to meet with evacuated residents and firefighters. He will be touring the community to survey the damage, and he will speak with the media.

A UStream user appearing to be Bastrop County's Economic Development Corporation has begun posting the news briefings by public safety officials. You can view them here.

The Central Texas wildfires could prove to be political tinder too. Governor Rick Perry has chided federal agencies for being too slow to respond in a disaster. KUT's Emily Donahue speaks with the Austin American-Statesman's Politifact reporter Gardner Selby about Perry's complaints over federal responsiveness. (Listen)

Update at 1:28 p.m.

Bastrop County has posted a list of destroyed houses in the Circle D/KC Estates area on its website. You can download the list here and the map here.

Wildfire smoke appears to be contributing to an increase of children showing up at Dell Children's Medical Center with respiratory issues. The hospital's Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Pat Crocker, told KUT News it's hard to tell how many patients are suffering specifically because of the smoke, but there has definitely been an uptick in patients. (Story)

The Williamson County Regional Animal Shelter is collecting food and other pet supplies for Bastrop fire evacuees who own pets. You can drop off food, cat litter, crates, and toys at Regional Shelter, 1855 S.E. Inner Loop in Georgetown, from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. today and from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Thursday.  You can leave supplies at the door after hours.

Update at 12:27 p.m.

Firefighters combating the massive blaze in Bastrop County say they are "gaining control" of the 34,000 acre blaze.  “We feel like perhaps today, perhaps today that we’ll have the perimeter secure where the fire will not get larger,” Bastrop County Emergency Management Coordinator Mike Fisher said.  (Story)

The City of Austin says all of Spicewood is now reopen to residents. To return home, they must first pick up wrist bands and car signs at Bee Creek United Methodist Church.

NASA has posted video of the Texas wildfires from outer space. Watch it here.

This Google Crisis Response map is useful for seeing active fires, satellite imagery, and Red Cross stations superimposed on a map of Texas.

Update at 11:31 a.m.

The smoke that descended on Austin this morning was from the Bastrop wildfire. A weather event known as an inversion trapped the smoke over the city. (Story)

Texas Parks and Wildlife has produced this video report of their efforts to fight the fire in Bastrop State Park.

Update at 10:46 a.m.

Smithville ISD will be closed until Monday. All extracurricular studies have been canceled. More info on Smithville ISD's website. Bastrop ISD has already announced it will be closed for the remainder of the week.

Update at 8:30 a.m.

April Saginor with the Texas Forest Service says the larger Bastrop County fire is now 30 percent contained. The Bastrop County Office of Emergency Management has more information on its Facebook page.

Update at 6 a.m.

  • Central Texas firefighters are making headway on some wildfires but the massive one in Bastrop County is still burning out of control. The Texas Forest Service says the Bastrop wildfire, and an additional smaller one, have burned over 34,000 acres. Almost 600 homes have been destroyed in the Bastrop area.
  • The Austin/Travis County Emergency Operations Center says the Spicewood Fire is 80 percent contained.  At least 67 homes have been destroyed there. Firefighters say the steep, hilly terrain is making this a hard fire to fight. The Spicewood Fire has burned about 6,500 acres.
  • The EOC says the Steiner Ranch fire is winding down. Firefighters are still working on hot spots but a smaller pool of resources is being used there.  35 homes have been destroyed and 30 others damaged. The Steiner Ranch fire is being classified as 40 percent contained.

Earlier:

  • Williamson County says firefighters are still working on hot spots from the Moonglow Fire. The Leander Fire Dept. Chief was letting people return to their homes last night. 
  • Some Spicewood residents may be allowed to return to their homes today. To enter the area, residents first have to pick up wrist bands and car signs at Bee Creek United Methodist Church from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m.
  • Bastrop ISD officials have canceled school for the rest of the week because of the ongoing wildfire situation. All school-related activities have also been canceled.
  • Smithville ISD is closed today because of the wildfires.
  • Classes resume today for all schools in Leander ISD that had been impacted because of the wildfires: Laura Bush, Steiner Ranch and River Ridge Elementary schools; Canyon Ridge, Four Points and Wiley Middle schools; Vandegrift and Rouse High schools.
  • Bastrop County Residents who have evacuated can call 581-4023 for information.
  • The Austin Disaster Relief phone number for people who want to donate money to wildfire victims is 331 2200 . Fire victims can call 331-2600.