Bastrop fire on move again; two confirmed dead
BASTROP — The worst wildfire in Texas history has now claimed the lives of at least two people, according to county officials, and continued inching toward the city of Bastrop as federal officials arrived on the scene to take charge.
The firestorm had destroyed 34,000 acres and 550 homes in Bastrop County mid-afternoon Tuesday, more residences than all the other wildfires this year combined, the Texas Forest Service said. The Bastrop County Complex Fire, pushed by strong winds and fed by dry grass, shrubs and trees, jumped the Colorado River twice as it expanded Monday and pushed south.
Officials with Bastrop County announced that two people had been confirmed dead because of the blaze during a news conference Tuesday afternoon, but the names of the victims were not immediately released.
Agents with the federal National Interagency Fire Center, a coalition of federal agencies including the U.S. Forest Service, assumed command of firefighting efforts Tuesday afternoon.
Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who left the presidential campaign trail Monday in South Carolina to return to Texas, said Tuesday the total number of homes destroyed by wildfires since the fire season began last December was now more than 1,000.
Perry spent time in Bastrop late Monday and took a helicopter tour of the burned Steiner Ranch area in Travis County. Statewide, texans are fighting more than 60 wildfires, including 23 major ones. No injuries have been reported in what is being called the Bastrop County Complex Fire, but two deaths were reported in an East Texas wildfire near Gladewater.
Bastrop County Judge Ronnie McDonald has requested that the Governor ask FEMA for individual assistance. We are cautiously optimistic that this will be approved. FEMA will arrive in Bastrop this week and will set up information for federal assistance. Details to follow.
Perry said FEMA likely would arrive Wednesday and the state would seek federal disaster relief and that state officials were considering seeking military resources from Fort Hood.
More than 250 firefighters from around the country have come to Bastrop to help, and more were on the way, the Forest Service said. Among them were 10 firefighters, four brush trucks and a command truck with the Alamo Area Regional Strike Team.
Firefighters had been hopeful that calmer winds on Tuesday would help retard the growth of the blaze, but as the afternoon began the fire again moved, this time toward Bastrop itself.
The fire is burning between Smithville and the City of Bastrop, in and around Tahitian Village, The Colony, Colavista, Pine Forest and Circle D subdivisions, K-C Estates, La Riata, Pine Valley Estates and Pine Loop subdivisions. A series of smaller blazes eventually merged on Sunday and Monday to form the larger blaze, which was at one point measures at 16 miles wide and four miles deep.
The Bastrop County Office of Emergency Management released a list of evacuated areas via its Facebook account at around 1:30 p.m. Tuesday: Circle D Estates, KC Estates, Tahitian Village, Pine Forest, Colo Vista, Wilderness Ridge, Bastrop State Park, Beuscher State Park, Lake Bastrop Acres, Park Road 1C west to city of Bastrop north of Hwy 71, S of Hwy 71 to river west of Smithville, La Reata, Pine Valley Loop off Hwy 304, Bluebonnet Acres, Hobbs Creek Subdivision.
Road closures on Tuesday included: Hwy 71 to 153 (Smithville); Hwy 21 East from Bastrop to 290; Hwy 21 West roads 535 to 1209
Officials reported some evacuations north of the City of Waelder in Gonzales County, but radio station KCTI reported late Monday that they had received word from Sgt. Austin Harper of the Waelder Police Department that no evacuations were yet underway.
“At this time the Waelder Police Department has no intentions of evacuating. Myself and Chief Taylor have assessed the Bastrop fire and as of right now Waelder is not in imminent danger of being overrun by wildfire,” Harper told the radio station. “Everyone should be ready to evacuate quickly should the need arise if the situation arises. In the event Waelder is to be evacuated the Fire Departments siren will be sounded constantly for several minutes. Residents in need of transportation out of the city will need to go to the community center and will be transported out of the city via WISD school busses. The Waelder Police Department will be reassessing the Basdrop fire situation every few hours so as to make sure there is plenty of time to evacuate if the need arises. Those citizens concerned may contact me via cell phone at 830-857-4381 for updates or further information.”
Bastrop County officials reported that residents east of Highway 95 need to boil their water. Also, power outages are still widespread in the area, but crews are working to get power back on. Some residents nearby but not affected by the fire may also be suffering from a loss of power.
The blaze began as a series of fires Sunday, but has since burned together and even jumped the Colorado River at points.
Five shelters are now open for evacuees: Bastrop Middle School and Ascension Catholic Church, Smithville- Recreation Center, Grace Lutheran Church and First Baptist Church.