Central Texas wildfires
Bastrop fires turn deadly: Two killed while flames burn out of control
The Bastrop fires have turned deadly. According to Bastrop County Judge Ronnie McDonald, two people were found dead Tuesday. There is no information on how they died, nor are officials identifying the victims other than to say they were not public safety personnel. Next of kin had not yet been notified.
The Bastrop fire continues to grow, now reaching 34,000 acres, and it is still burning completely out of control. It covers an area 24 miles long and 20 miles wide with 0% containment. The fire has now claimed 550 homes and rages unabated.
"You all [in Bastrop] are the tip of the spear today. This is the worst wildfire season in the history of the Lone Star state," said Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples at an afternoon press conference.
The Texas Parks & Wildlife Department released this video today showing how fast this fire can move through dry grass and trees.
Bastrop school leaders cancelled classes for the rest of the week as weary firefighters brave the flames and more evacuations may have to be called; 20 neighborhoods have been cleared already.
In Leander, law enforcement officials say the fires there may have been intentionally set by arsonists. The Leander fire marshal described four teens, two boys and two girls as suspects. The Moonglow fire, as it's called, caused an estimated $1.4 million in damage.
Steiner Ranch residents returned to their homes today and were met by volunteers delivering food and supplies.
"We decided jointly to let people in early so they could get back to their normal lives. So people are going to have to work with firefighters in their back yards," said Lake Travis Fire Chief Jim Linardos. "We're still working on containing this fire."
The Steiner Ranch fire is now only 45% contained, and not under control—60 firefighters are still actively working in the subdivision, and 24 homes were lost, though the heroic efforts of firefighters saved over 300 homes. Investigators believe the fire started by wind causing high voltage power lines to rub against each other, sending sparks into tinder dry grass.
"This is not a grass fire. The trees are burning, the brush is burning and everything else is burning," Lindaros said. "They take a long time to consume and a long time to put out. We're going to have smoke in the area for the next three to five days."
Tuesday afternoon Austin's Fire Department released this video of the destruction:
Fires continue to burn across Central Texas. There are several ways you can help the victims. The best is to donate cash to the American Red Cross. CultureMap's Shelley Seale detailed other ways you can help.
September 6th, 11am
Fires in Bastrop County continue to burn unabated. As of noon today, fires burned over 30,000 acres and destroyed more than 500 homes; Bastrop County officials say they have not been able to contain them. "The weather is better today," says Bastrop Emergency Operations head Mike Fisher. "We hope firefighters can make a more direct attack today. Over the next 48 hours, we think we can make great progress."
Bastrop County evacuated 20 neighborhoods this weekend, and those families still cannot return home. 2,500 people registered in five county shelters, but most are staying with friends or family. Schools in Bastrop will be closed tomorrow as they are today.
While the extent of the tragedy is becoming more apparent every hour, no one has been killed in any of the fires as far as Central Texas officials know. Lives were saved by quick notification and evacuation as the fire ran into neighborhoods.
Residents of Steiner Ranch west of Austin will be allowed back into their homes—or what is left of them—at noon today. Fire destroyed 24 homes and damaged 30 more in the subdivision. The City of Austin reports firefighters saved over 300 homes. Law enforcement officials warn that only residents will be allowed to enter the subdivision and ask everyone else to avoid the area. There will be nothing to see.
CultureMap contributor Shelley Seale tells the frightening stories of two families forced to leave.
The Leander school district closed schools today and says they will be assessing whether they can open schools tomorrow. Leander's Vandergrift High School serves as a shelter for those unable to return home.
Texas has declared the fires a disaster, which is the first step in receiving federal aid for those affected.
A photo gallery on KXAN is being regularly updated.
Wildfires continue to char much of Central Texas. Tonight KXAN-TV reports nearly 500 homes have been lost.
The largest fire burns in Bastrop where over 30,000 acres are scorched, fueled by winds from Tropical Storm Lee. Those in Steiner Ranch, where fires have burned for over 24 hours and destroyed 25 homes, are still not allowed back home.
All of Austin could see smoke on the horizon, a constant reminder that—as many celebrated the holiday—others were running for their lives and losing their most precious possessions.
Tonight the wind has relented allowing firefighters to get a handle on the flames.
There is an excellent photo gallery on KXAN here.
September 5, 8am
Fires raged across Central Texas Sunday from Bastrop to Steiner Ranch near Mansfield Dam; from Pflugerville to Marble Falls. The wind that cooled us down this Labor Day, also brought the perfect conditions for fires to grow out of control.
Acoording to KXAN News at least 25 homes were lost to fire in Steiner Ranch and thousands were evacuated. While RR 620 is open this morning, residents are still not allowed to return to their homes. As of 11p.m., the fire was still burning.
In Bastrop and Pflugerville hundreds of homes were evacuated. In Bastrop four shelters were opened as a 14,000 acre fire continued to burn, losses to homes are expected to be significant. Over 160 animals were rescued from the Bastrop animal shelter overnight.
Every fire department in Central Texas was activated, and firefighters were rousted from holidays off. The fires have pushed the limits of Central Texas fire response.
Austinites should stay aware of what's happening around them and stay tuned to the media. Fires can flare and grow out of control in minutes due the dry, windy weather. Also, officials ask that people stay away from the affected areas unless they need to be there. The Red Cross is staffing shelters and so far have not called for help.
You can see a remarkable photo gallery on KXAN here.