wildfires
10:09 pm
Mon September 5, 2011

Tracking the Central Texas Wildfires

Update at 7:41 am

You can now find the latest news on the wildfires in this post. 

Update at 10:19 pm

There are currently four major wildfires fires burning in the Austin-area, according to the Texas Forest Service.

  • The Bastrop County fire, which is not contained.
  • The Pedernales One/Spicewood fire, which was about 40 percent contained Monday evening
  • The Steiner Ranch fire, which was about 25 percent contained Monday evening
  • The Leander fire, which is now mostly contained

The University of Texas at Austin, one of the largest employers in the region, will provide paid time off for employees who were forced to evacuate, experienced property damage, or lost their homes.  Employees can apply for disaster leave through their department head, or for financial relief from the Staff Emergency Fund.

Update at 10:01 pm

Two-thirds or more of the 6,000 acre Bastrop State Park has been burned by wildfire, but Texas Parks and Wildlife officials say they have been able to protect historic structures by digging fire lanes and saturating the ground around them with water.

“As long as personal property and lives are not lost, the land actually benefits from these burns, as bizarre as that seems,” Texas Parks and Wildlife spokesman Mike Cox told KUT News. “Once it starts raining again, the pine trees will come back and the park probably will be more verdant than ever.”

Meanwhile, the Austin Independent School District says all facilities are expected to open on time Tuesday. Several other Central Texas districts are closing campuses for the fire. That information is here.

Hays County officials say they are ending a mandatory evacuation order for about 210 homes. Light winds, higher humidity and the grueling effort of firefighters has prevented the Pedernales One fire from pushing further into Hays County.

Austin Energy says power has now been restored to Steiner Ranch, except for about 236 homes. They are being kept off the grid until repairs can be made. Those homes are on Steiner Ranch Boulevard between John Simpson Trail and Epperson, or in the Medina River Way and McNelly Trail area.

Update at 8:55 pm

In a new indication of how hard firefighters are struggling to control the 25,000 acre Bastrop fire, a new mandatory evacuation orders have been issued for these areas. Anyone in danger who cannot evacuate should call 9-1-1.

The Pedernales One/Spicewood fire is now only 40 percent contained. Earlier today, fire fighters had said the blaze was 80 percent contained.  Areas west of the Pedernales River have been evacuated.

That fire has scorched 6,400 acres, or about 10 square miles.  About 64 buildings have been damaged.

The National Weather Service forecasts that winds will die down overnight to 10 to 15 miles an hour. On Tuesday, the winds should diminish 5 to 10 miles an hour during the day. Over the last few days, wind gusts have been up to 40 miles an hour, fueling the flames and frustrating firefighting efforts.

Large animals such as livestock can be sheltered at the Georgetown Rodeo Arena in San Gabriel Park, just off I-35 in Georgetown. RV hookups are available at the arena.

State Highway 71 is closed from the Pedernales River to Fall Creek until further notice.

The boat ramp at the Mansfield Dam has been reopened.

The City of Austin says its emergency information line (974-6199) is being flooded with calls, and it's urging people to visit this city website for the latest information on the fires.  Of course, you can also follow us here at kutnews.org.

Update at 8:13 pm

We have an update on the Pedernales One fire. More than 100 firefighters, two helicopters and three bulldozers will continuing battling the flames throughout the night. 

The fire has burned about 6,400 acres and damaged 67 homes. Evacuees are being told it is still not safe to return, although power has been restored to most homes.

Hays County firefighters are situated on Hamilton Pool Road and are planning to attack the blaze if it approaches further south. The road has been closed to incoming traffic.

Update at 7:53 pm

Several school districts will be closed Tuesday as the result of wildfires that have scorched thousands of acres in Central Texas.

Bastrop ISD is closing all schools as fire crews struggle to contain a 25,000 acre wildfire in that community, currently the largest in Central Texas. Bastrop Middle School is being used as a shelter for evacuees.

Leander ISD has several school closures because of the wildfire in the Steiner Ranch area. Laura Bush, Steiner Ranch, and River Ridge elementary schools, and Canyon Ridge and Four Points middle schools will be closed.

Vandegrift high school will also be closed, because it is being used as a Red Cross shelter.  Rouse High School is also being used as a shelter, but Leander ISD has not said it if will be closed on Tuesday.

Smithville ISD says it will be closed because of fires located in the area.

Lake Travis ISD sent an email to parents saying all classes would be held as normal on Tuesday, but also warning them to stay home if necessary.

"If your home, property, personal belongings, etc. have been directly impacted by the fires and your travel to school is simply not possible, please continue to take the necessary precautions to safeguard your family and heed all warnings and directives issued by area law enforcement and safety officials," Lake Travis ISD spokesman Marco Alvarado said in the email.

Update at 7:26 pm

Austin Energy says it has begun restoring power to customers in the Steiner Ranch area. About 5,500 households lost power today as fire crews began battling a stubborn wildfire that has destroyed 24 homes and forced the evacuation of hundreds of people.

Austin Energy crews began inspecting the lines in the area at around 10 o'clock this morning. Sections that have been damaged are being isolated so power does not flow to those areas.

But as crews establish which lines have not been damaged, they have been gradually restoring electricity through the five major circuits that power the area. Around 6 p.m., some 1,300 customers had their power restored. Another 1,000 households received electricity around 7:15 p.m.

Update at 7:03 pm

About 250 homes have been evacuated in Leander as yet another wild fire erupts in Central Texas. The fire was called in at around 5 p.m., and evacuations began immediately, Williamson County spokesperson Connie Watson said.

The blaze is currently about 20 acres in size.

Homes were first evacuated on Moon Glow Drive and Honeysuckle Way. Evacuations were then spread to include the Mason Creek and Crystal Falls subdivisions. Those are  north of Crystal Falls Parkway and south of Topaz Lane.

You can see the affected area in this map.

Watson said some thirteen homes were damaged by the fire and another 100 are threatened.

Update at 6:30 pm

Everything is said to be running smoothly this hour at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport. While roads to the airport remain open, officials say there may be traffic delays in the area.

Update at 6:26 pm

Hays County officials have ordered a mandatory evacuation for northern parts of the county in the path of the Pedernales One fire. The evacuation order includes these parts:

  • Stagecoach Ranches subdivision
  • Bell Springs Road-Lost Creek Road-Grand Summit Road area
  • Cedar Springs Ranch
  • River Oaks Ranch and Ranches at Hamilton Pool

An evacuation shelter has been set up at Dripping Springs Middle School.

Update at 6:11 pm

Governor Rick Perry skipped a high-profile Tea Party forum in South Carolina to fly back to Central Texas as wildfires scorch thousands of acres.

“It was a surreal experience today,” Perry said at a news conference with emergency management officials at the Bastrop Convention Center. “I have seen a number of big fires in my life. This one is as mean looking as I’ve ever seen, partly because it’s so close to the city.”

The blaze that erupted in Bastrop on Sunday has burned at least 25,000 acres and destroyed 476 homes.

Texas has deployed a wide range of government assets to help combat the flames, Perry said. Those include:

  • 15 single-engine air tankers
  • 2 Chinook helicopters
  • 4 Blackhawk helicopters

Perry said he was hoping to enlist the help of Department of Defense resources out of Fort Hood, particularly bulldozers and motograders that could clear a perimeter around the fire to prevent it from spreading.

Missing tonight’s town hall, hosted by U.S. Sen. Jim DeMint (R-South Carolina), meant that Perry lost a chance to make his case to a wide range of Tea Party conservatives.

“I’m not paying any attention to politics right now,” Perry said in response to a question on the issue. “People’s lives and their possessions are in danger, and that‘s substantially more important.” He received a round of applause from the emergency officials in the room.

Perry will have plenty of chances to appeal to the Tea Party voters. A Tea Party Express debate is scheduled on Monday, September 15.

Update at 5:39 pm

Hays County officials are closing Hamilton Pool Road to incoming traffic. People will be allowed to leave the area, but no one will be allowed to enter at either from Stagecoach Ranch Road on the west or Highland Plains Drive on the east.

That's because Hays County fire officials are positioning resources to fight the Pedernales One fire as it moves southward. Fire fighters say the terrain along the Pedernales River is too rough to approach the blaze from that direction, so they plan to confront it from Hamilton Pool Road.

View Larger Map

Update at 5:10 pm

The Steiner Ranch fire in western Travis County is now 25 percent contained. Twenty-four buildings have been destroyed, and 30 are damaged. The blaze is currently 125 acres.

People in the area who interested in finding out the condition of their homes can go to the Vandegrift High School, the location of a Red Cross shelter. Travis County officials have compiled the list with the status of homes. You’ll need a photo ID with your home’s address on it to access the information.

Fire officials say they won’t even consider reopening the area before 8 a.m. tomorrow.

“We have a lot of people who are trying to sneak back into the neighborhood, which is using up a lot of my resources by trying to respond and deal with those situations,” said Captain Frank Loftin, Travis County Sheriff’s office. “We are stretched very thin.”

Loftin asked people not to park on 620, especially near the bridge.

STAR Flight, a public safety air rescue program, has conducted more than 300 bucket drops using its three EC-145 helicopters, according to Danny Hobby with Travis County Emergency Operations.  They have gone from fire to fire across Central Texas, depending upon demand.

Update at 4:36 pm

Bastrop County officials held a press conference at around 4 p.m. this afternoon. The county’s coordinator of emergency management, Michael Fisher, explained they are using bulldozers to create fire breaks, and wetting the ground ahead of the fire.

The Bastrop County fire is still north of the Colorado River, Fisher said. Last night, it jumped the river briefly but those flames were contained.

Fisher said there are currently about 400 people in shelters. The number is down a bit from yesterday, presumably because some evacuees left to stay with family or friends.

Many homes are without power. The outage area includes an area much greater than that affected by the fire.

The Texas Forest Service says the Bastrop fire has destroyed 25,000 acres.

Governor Rick Perry is scheduled to visit in person with fire officials and hold a briefing afterwards.

Update at 4:17 pm

Hays County officials say rough terrain will "make it difficult if not impossible" for fire equipment and first responders to get to the wildfire along the Pedernales River. The blaze is now about 2.75 miles north of Hamilton Pool Road, and that's where Hays County first responders are planning to confront the fire if winds keep pushing it in that direction. 

People who live in the Stagecoach Ranch subdivision and the Bell Springs-Lost Creek-Grand Summit areas are being urged to stay away from their homes. An evacuation shelter has been set up at Dripping Springs Middle School. 

Update at 4:04 pm

We've uploaded a bunch of video from the wildfires that we culled from YouTube. Check it out here. Please feel free to post your video links in the comments for that post.

Update 3:05 pm

As KUT reported ealier,  some of the original evacuation sites in Bastrop are now being moved because the fire was moving too close. Now the Texas Parks and Wildlife department is ordering all but essential personal to evacuate the Bastrop State Park command post.

From a Parks and Wildlife announcement:

High plumes of black and brown smoke continued to move slowly toward the park from the northeast fueled by gusting winds expected to reach 35 mph. The fire has been advancing toward the park despite extensive water drops from aircraft as coordinated by the Texas Forest Service. State parks officials are still planning to make an all-out effort to save historic structures on the park, many of which were constructed in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps.

We also have new totals from the Pedernales fire. 64 structures were damaged. The Pedernales Electric Coop is reporting currently 545 homes with out power.

Update 2:15 pm

The Bastrop fire continues to rage through the area. It's moving so quickly that locations initially named evacuation points are now being evacuated to safer areas. Fire officials continue to do their best in today's high winds.

From Leander ISD:

"Due to the Steiner Ranch fires, Laura Bush, Steiner Ranch, and River Ridge elementary schools, and Canyon Ridge middle school will be closed on Tuesday, September 6. In addition, Four Points middle school and Vandegrift high school will be closed due to logistical and safety concerns, since Vandegrift High School remains a Red Cross shelter. ALL athletic, fine arts, practices, extracurricular activities, as well as all booster club meetings, are canceled. The district will reassess the situation on Tuesday."

Update 1:53 pm

Update on the Bastrop Fire:

People near Cedar Creek high school and McKinney Roughs have started voluntary evacuations because of the wildfire in that area.

That includes:

the Bluebonnet Acres subdivision
homes at the intersection  of 71 and 21
homes on west Mcdonald, Martin lane,  and Pope Bend

These people can go to Cedar Creek United Methodist Church at the intersection of 535 and 21.

Update 1:18 pm

One more road related post: The Travis County Sheriff’s office is keeping Highway 71 closed from Pace Bend to the county line due to low visibility.

Update 1:10

Here's a list of roads closed around the Bastrop fire.

FM-1441 between TX-95 N and TX-21 E
TX-21 between TX-95 and N Old Potato Rd
Hwy-71 East in both directions between Hwy-21/Hwy-95 and FM-969

Update 1:06 pm

The Bastrop fire appears to be getting close to the Hyatt Lost Pines west of Bastrop. Officials from the resort say there are no plans to evacuate at the moment.

Update 1:00 pm

Here's a list of school closures for Tuesday.

Bastrop ISD and Smithville ISD have closed all schools for Tuesday.
4 schools in Steiner Ranch, 3 elementary and one middle school, will also be closed Tuesday.

Update 12:50 pm

Here's a quote from Austin Mayor Lee Leffingwill at a press conference on the Steiner Ranch fire.

"I want to stress the positive aspect, so far no known fatalities, no major injuries, and I think that’s kind of amazing. And we thank, we have to thank our regional first responders - not just the City of Austin and Travis County but volunteer organizations all over the region have cooperated in a way that I think is kind of unprecedented"

Update 12:40 pm

There's a new fire burning west of Bastrop. It's just south of highway 71 and north of Clear Spring Lake near the community of Wildwood. KUT's Matt Largey is on the scene. He says fire crews have begun battling the blaze. The fire is near an animal kennel and there is a great deal of activity as workers try to evacuate the facility.

Forestry planes are crossing over the fire but for now it appears they are just trying to assess the size of the fire and have not begun dropping water.

Largey says for now it looks like the fire is moving to the south.

At the Steiner Ranch fire: Officials say the four schools in the Steiner Ranch neighborhood will be closed tomorrow, three elementary schools and one middle school.

The Steiner Ranch neighborhood will remain closed to residents until at least tomorrow morning. The fire is 20 percent contained. The Starflight helicopter has been dropping water over the area. Officials say the chopper has been a huge asset in fighting the flames.

Update 12:10 pm

The Red Cross has set up a donation page on its website for the Central Texas fires. The organization is asking for cash donations. It also lists how that money will be spent, including to help purchase food, clothing and shelter or temporary housing for those who have lost their home in the fires.

Update 12:00 p.m.

County Judge Dan A. Gattis has issued a Declaration of Disaster for Williamson County. In a statement just released Judge Gattis says the declaration is necessary because, "the county is under imminent threat of widespread or severe damage, injury, or loss of life or property resulting from extraordinary drought conditions, critical weather and wildfire conditions, and the imminent threat of wildfire."

In Bastrop County, Sheriff Terry Pickering says he's got men and equipment massing at FM 2571 in the Hills Prairie area of the county to make a stand against the fire in an attempt to keep it from crossing the road and heading further south.

Pickering told KUT's Mose Buchele if it does cross the road - they'll have to evacuate more people.

Update 11:35 am

City of Austin Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Management says firefighters are gaining control of the fire in the Steiner Ranch area. Preliminary estimates indicates that there are 30-35 homes that have been  damaged or destroyed.

Steiner Ranch residents still cannot return to their homes because of the fire. Electricity is also off in the area. Austin Energy will be accessing the area and restoring power as first responders allow them into the area.

Update 11:15 am

Here are all the numbers we have for people trying to find out what's going on in their neighborhood and where they need to go to seek shelter:

Travis County: (512)974-6199
Bastrop County: (512)581-4023
Hays County: (512)753-2180

And here are the shelter numbers we have:

Bastrop Middle School (512) 321-3911
Smithville Recreation Center (512) 237-3282 extension 7
Vandergrift High School (Steiner Ranch) (512) 570-2300

Update 11:10 pm

Texas Governor Rick Perry has left the presidential campaign trail and is headed back to Texas to help deal with the wildfires.

In a press release issued just moments ago - the governor urged all Texans to closely monitor conditions and reports, and heed all warnings from local officials as extremely dry and windy conditions are expected to continue fueling wildfires that continue are raging across the state.

The release listed new state resources assisting with wildfire response including:

  • Texas Forest Service, with 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 2 UH-60 Blackhawks staged in Austin to fight central Texas fires, 2 UH-60 Blackhawks in San Antonio 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.  

Update: 10:53 pm

Steiner Ranch evacuees are not allowed to return home not only because of the fire but because power in the area has been turned off as they battle the blaze.

Several new areas are being evacuated as result of the Pedernales fire burning 4 miles southeast of Spicewood.  The areas being evacuated include Paleface Shore, Red Brangus, Pedernales Point and Pedernales Canyon roads.

In Bastrop, officials say today could be worse than yesterday. The fire is still out of control. All the individual fires have burned together to create one giant fire.

The Austin Humane Society activated their Emergency Pet Shelter last night after Bastrop fires forced the animals at Bastrop Animal Control to be evacuated. AHS went to Bastrop late Sunday night and staff and volunteers worked until three in the morning to get the approximately sixty cats and dogs comfortable and rested for the night.

Update 10:45 pm

Bastrop ISD says it will close for Tuesday September 6th due to the wildfires and the use of local schools as evacuation centers. That includes all athletic events and extra-curricular activities.

Earlier:

Wildfires in Bastrop County continues to burn out of control. The official numbers say at least 14,000 acres has burned. That number could go much higher as officials continue to assess damage from overnight.

Shelters remain open across the area. Robert Gartman's family has been at Bastrop Middle School since last night. "Right now we're hearing different stories that our house is burned and then some of them are telling us it's not burned," Gartman said, "we just have to wait and see until all this is over with. And then we'll go back home and see what happened."

The fire in Steiner Ranch is not contained,which means families can't make it home yet. As of 9:45 a.m. the City of Austin is reporting that Steiner Ranch evacuees will not be returning to their homes at noon today. There is no word yet on when they will be able to return. The City of Austin will be making an emergency briefing at some point today when they have received updates of the damage.

You can get the latest on all Texas fires by going to the Texas Forest Service.

 

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