Four dead, 1700 homes burned in over 186 fires across Texas. Low humidity and remote locations leave several large fires burning out of control
Residents of several Bastrop area communities were allowed back to their homes yesterday as firefighters made progress in containing the huge Bastrop county complex fire that has burned over 1,400 homes and 35,000 acres, and killed at least 2 people. U.S. 71 and St Hwy 21 remain closed between Bastrop and Smithville.
Lighter winds over the last three days allowed firefighters to let residents into certain areas deemed safe from further flare ups. The fire, however, is listed as only 30% contained, and with humidity below 20%, it remains an extremely dangerous blaze.
The Austin American-Statesman has a great series of resources including a map of re-opened areas, photos of the devestation, and a great list of how and where to help victims of the fire.
The Bastrop Co. fire revealed problems in co-ordination between local and national firefighting assets, as FEMA did not arrive on scene until Wednesday (four days after the fire began), and a huge DC-10 aircraft, designed to fight large wildfires, which arrived from California on Tuesday wasn't ready to begin fighting fires until Friday morning. As Texas's volunteer firefighters saw budgets slashed by 75% in the last legislative session, these slow responding national units will have to assume a larger role in battling future fires.
Though most of the other fires in central Texas (including the destructive Spicewood and Steiner Ranch fires) are largely contained, large blazes still burn across east Texas. Over 100 homes have been destroyed in the Riley Road fire north of Houston that is listed as only 50% contained. Officials in Smith County, in northeast Texas, are searching for a suspected arsonist they believe to be responsible for setting several fires near Tyler.
The huge Bear Creek fire near Longview has burned up to 40,000 acres and is threatening a natural gas facility. It is 40% contained, but is burning in a remote region dense with dry timber and is proving difficult to contain. It is clearly visible from space.
For up to the minute updates on all known fires burning across Texas, visit the Texas Forest Service and InciWeb, and please, do what you can to help the victims of the most destructive outbreak of wildfires in Texas history.