5:27 pm
Sat September 10, 2011

Wildfire Updates Saturday, September 10

A child's piece of artwork thanking firefighters for battling the Bastrop wildfire is taped on the window at the Bastrop Convention Center.
Photo by Teresa Vieira for KUT News

Update at 5:27 p.m.

Governor Rick Perry missed a news conference he scheduled with reporters at 4 p.m. in Bastrop today. Perry’s office distributed an email to media last night saying he “will give remarks and be joined by emergency management officials for a media availability following a tour of wildfire damage in Bastrop County.”

A spokesman for the Governor’s office says Perry was absent because of logistical reasons. Lucy Nashed told KUT News that the original location chosen for the news conference, 392 McAlister Rd, was in a neighborhood that was not open to the public.

Local officials wanted to hold the press conference instead in front of Roscar Chocolates, which is no longer in a restricted area, but for Governor Perry to get there would have required everyone to wait “a really long time,” she said.

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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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5:10 pm
Fri September 9, 2011

AFD Still Helping With Bastrop Fire

A burnt out truck sits near the remains of a house in the Tahitian Village area that was destroyed in the Bastrop wildfire.
Photo by Raymond Thompson for KUT News and

The Austin Fire Department has helped out with all the major Central Texas wildfires this week, and firefighters are still toiling to contain a massive 34,000 acre wildfire stretching across Bastrop County.

AFD currently has four of its 40 fire engines in Bastrop. All four are back up engines that would otherwise not be in service. Some off-duty AFD firefighters are working overtime in Bastrop.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) can reimburse 75 percent of the costs associated with fighting the fire. 

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5:43 am
Fri September 9, 2011

KUT Remembers Retired Colleague Leonora Siedo

Photo from the KUT archives

On Wednesday, September 7, one of our retired KUT colleagues, Leo (Leonora) Siedo passed away. Leo held a variety of roles at the station and was part of the senior management team for a number of years. A graduate of Austin High School, she went on to attend the University of Texas at Austin.

While still in school, she started working part time for KUT in 1966, and in 1971 became a Senior Clerk. Over her 30 years, she become a Manager and one of the first Assistant Directors at the station. She was one of the steady hands during a difficult period of Director transitions in the late 90s.

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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

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? 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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2:14 pm
Thu September 8, 2011

Wildfire Situation Improving at Bastrop State Park

The entrance to Bastrop State Park at night
Photo by Alan Fisher, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department

Firefighters are mopping up the remnants of a blaze that tore through Bastrop State Park this week. All but 100 acres of the park were blackened by wildfire, but crews managed to save many historic Depression-era buildings.

“We lost a couple of scenic overlooks, which we hate, but the base of them is rock,” Texas Parks and Wildlife spokesman Mike Cox said. “The wooden covers to them can be replaced when funding becomes available.”

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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

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) 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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4:51 pm
Wed September 7, 2011

Texas to Request Major Disaster Declaration from Feds

The Bastrop wildfire alone has burned more than 34,000 acres, destroyed almost 800 homes and left two people dead. Texas has applied for a federal disaster declaration.
Photo by Reshma Kirpilani for KUT News and

Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst will ask the federal government to declare a major disaster in Texas due to the wildfires burning across the state.

Dewhurst toured some of the damage and met with some evacuees in Bastrop today, where the worst fire is still not fully contained. Afterward, Dewhurst told the press, "I am signing the request for major disaster relief for Texas to be declared a national disaster because of these fires."

More than 34,000 acres have burned and the Texas Forest Service says as many as a thousand homes have been lost in the Bastrop fire alone.

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2:56 pm
Wed September 7, 2011

Evacuated Spicewood Residents Return Home

Larry Kirkpatrick's mobile home and car were destroyed in the Spicewood fire. Now, with no transportation, he says he must move back into Austin.
Photo by Reshma Kirpalani for KUT News and

People forced from their houses by a wildfire in the Hill Country community of Spicewood were allowed to return home this morning. The blaze blackened more than 6,400 acres and is now 90 percent contained.

Between 65 and 75 buildings were at least partially burned in Fall Creek Estates and the Paleface Ranch Road area. Assessments are underway to measure the extent of the damage. Some people lost everything.

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8:16 am
Wed September 7, 2011

How Central Texans Can Donate

The wildfires in Central Texas, like this one in Bastrop County, have forced hundreds of people to evacuate their homes. Many organizations are accepting monetary and material donations to help the victims.
Reshma Kirpalani for KUT/Reporting Texas

Many spared from the worst of the wildfires are left wondering what can be done to help the victims. There are numerous aid organizations, churches, and community centers that are accepting both monetary and material donations. Here are a few places:

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6:48 am
Wed September 7, 2011

Report: Austin Fire Chief Out of Town When Central Texas Wildfires Started

Photo by Callie Hernandez for KUT News.

The Austin American-Statesman published a report online last night that Austin Fire Chief Rhoda Mae Kerr stayed in Colorado for a Labor Day weekend golfing trip  when the Central Texas wildfires began Sunday.  The paper reports Chief Kerr stayed in contact with her department by cell phone and email.

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7:15 pm
Tue September 6, 2011

Central Texas Wildfire Updates September 6, 2011

A home destroyed in the Steiner Ranch subdivision. Evacuated residents were allowed to return to those homes this afternoon.
Photo by Erika Aguilar, KUT News

Update Wednesday morning

You can find all the latest info on the fires as of Wednesday on this post.

Update at 7:15 p.m.

Here’s where we stand this evening:

The Bastrop Complex wildfire has claimed two lives, according to police. The blaze is now 34,000 acres and has destroyed 550 homes. Fire officials said they are making progress on the wildfire, but couldn’t yet say the level of containment.  (Story)

More than 4,000 Bastrop residents are evacuated, and many are trying their best to learn whether or not their homes have been destroyed. (Story)

The Union Chapel fire, in the Bastrop County community of Cedar Creek, is 20 percent contained. It has scorched 900 acres and destroyed 27 homes. About 200 people are evacuated.

The Leander fire is mostly contained, but police are now looking for four teenagers whom they believe are responsible for it. Eleven homes were destroyed in the 300 acre fire.  (Story)

Some Spicewood residents may be allowed back into their homes tomorrow. First, they have to pick up wrist bands and car signs at Bee Creek United Methodist Church.  The Pedernales Bend fire, the one that forced their evacuation, is now 80 percent contained.

People who live in the Steiner Ranch subdivision were allowed back into their homes at noon. Power has been restored to about 90 percent of residents. But Lake Travis' fire chief says people should expect continued operations in the area for the next three to five days as crews work to snuff out remaining flames and embers.

The Texas Forest Service lost about a third of its regular operating budget last week, almost $35 million over two years. It was part of the state legislature’s sweeping budget cuts that attempted to balance spending without increasing taxes. (Story)

Governor Rick Perry held a news conference at Steiner Ranch this morning, and criticized the federal bureaucracy for being slow to respond to requests for heavy equipment from Fort Hood. (Story)

Fires can spread frighteningly fast in these ultra-dry conditions. Watch this video to see just how fast.

Here’s a list of things you should bring if you have to evacuate. Here are some ways you can help fire victims.

If you haven’t already seen it, check out this image of the Bastrop fire from outer space.

You can find more information on fire activity from this Texas Forest Service map.

Check back tomorrow morning for more updates on the Central Texas wildfires.

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7:50 am
Tue September 6, 2011

Donation Drop-Off Locations for Fire Victims

Many local non-profits are creating ways for needed goods to reach those evacuated from the recent fires. Photo by Lizzie Chen for KUT News.

Wondering what you can do to help those affected by the fires in Central Texas? Make a donation of food, clothing or supplies to a nonprofit that will distribute donations to Central Texans affected by the recent fires.

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9:48 pm
Mon September 5, 2011

Bastrop State Park Burns, Historic Buildings Saved

Cabins like this one are being protected in Bastrop State Park
Photo by scruffdog1231

The massive wildfire tearing through Bastrop County has scorched two-thirds or more of the 6,500 acre Bastrop State Park. But Texas Parks and Wildlife Department officials say they have made substantial progress in an effort to save historic buildings in the park.

Many of Texas state parks were built by the Civilian Conservation Corps, a Depression-era job creation program. As such, the cabins, a refectory, and other structures at Bastrop State Park are considered historic.  Texas Parks and Wildlife has this on-line exhibit with more on the history of the 1930s effort to construct state parks.  

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8:51 pm
Mon September 5, 2011

Bastrop Residents Look for Hope Amid Flames

Austin Pastor Guillermo Alvarez leads a prayer on a sidewalk in Bastrop for family members whose Bastrop County home was in the crosshairs of the onrushing wildfire.
Photo by Reshma Kirpalani for KUT News

A lot of people in Bastrop County were looking for signs of hope Labor Day, in the face of a 25,000 acre wildfire that tore through brush, trees, homes and anything else in its way.

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