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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
A home destroyed in the Steiner Ranch subdivision. Evacuated residents were allowed to return to those homes this afternoon.

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.

Update at 6:29 p.m.

The fire in Leander that destroyed eleven homes and damaged eight others is now being investigated as an arson.

"The investigation has revealed that prior to and during the fire, witnesses observed two males and two females running from the wooded area behind the Mason Creek North Subdivision," Leander police said in a press release. "This area is where investigators believe the fire started."

Here is the description of the suspects:

  • Caucasian female 15 to 16 years old wearing pink shirt and blue jeans with dark black hair that was possibly dyed.
  • Caucasian female 15 to 156 years old wearing white t-shirt and jeans with dirty blonde hair
  • Caucasian males both 15 to 16 years old with dark, shaggy hair wearing blue jeans. One had on a red shirt. The other wore a green with black stripe shirt.

Anyone with information can call Leander police at 512-528-2800 or Williamson County Crime Stoppers at 1-800-253-7867. There's a $2,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of suspects.
Update at 6:08 p.m.

Emergency management officials are evaluating the situation, but they say that evacuees from Spicewood may be able to return to their homes tomorrow. In order to gain entry, they’ll have to pick up wrist bands and signs for their cars ahead of time. Those are available until 7:30 tonight or tomorrow at Bee Creek United Methodist Church.

Update at 5:33 p.m.

Two people have died in the Bastrop fire, according to law enforcement officials.  The blaze has grown to 34,000 acres and destroyed 550 homes. Firefighters are finally getting some traction against the fire with more cooperative weather and additional resources making their way to the front lines.

The Bastrop Independent School District says it will remain closed until Monday. All school related activities have also been canceled.

People evacuated from the Steiner Ranch subdivision are being allowed back into their homes. Power has been restored to about 90 percent of customers. Fire fighting efforts will continue in the area for the next several days.

Update at 4:04 p.m.

We are live blogging a news conference underway at the Bastrop Convention Center. You can read that here.

Update at 3:55 p.m.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has authorized funds to be used in the battle against Texas wildfires. The authorization makes federal funding available for 75 percent of “eligible” state and local firefighting costs.

What are eligible costs? FEMA says it can include “expenses for field camps; equipment use, repair and replacement; tools, materials and supplies; and mobilization and demobilization activities.”

FEMA officials are also on the ground in Bastrop conducting preliminary damage assessments with the state and local officials.

The Leander wildfire is now 75 percent contained, but more than 500 people are still evacuated and waiting to return home.  

Wondering how fast a wildfire can spread through the parched wilderness of Central Texas? Watch this video from Texas Parks and Wildlife, shot yesterday at Bastrop State Park.

Some HomeAway vacation rental owners are making their units available atfree or reduced cost to wildfire evacueees.

Update at 2:55 p.m.

Smithville ISD schools will be closed again tomorrow. The district says its telephone service is down, and cell phone coverage is spotty. Bus routes are unable to run.

Update at 2:31 p.m.

Austin fire fighters are dealing with series of spot fires in a wooded area south of Parmer Lane. The alarm was called in around 1 p.m. at the end of Mustang Chase. Fire fighters brought in brush trucks to deal with the awkward terrain.

There were a few evacuations. They have now been lifted. The fire has also stopped traffic on a Union Pacific rail line.

Austin Energy said in a Tweet that it had to cut power to about 1,800 people in the area so AFD crews could battle the fire.

AFD Captain Marc Saenz told KUT News he was fairly confident the brush crews - those are firefighters cross trained in handling wildfires - could handle the blaze.  "We've got it where our guys can kind of handle it," he said.

This map shows the general area of the fire.

View Larger Map

Meanwhile, in Bastrop, some evacuated residents are getting anxious waiting to find out if their homes have been destroyed. Law enforcement officials are doing their best to share what information they can. One woman set up a Facebook page to share information about homes in the Tahitian Village neighborhood.

The risk of wildfires remains high in Central Texas, so you may want to take a few minutes to consider what items you should bring if you're forced to evacuate.

Update at 1:21 p.m.

State officials sayair monitors in South and Central Texas show higher-than-normal readings of fine particles, but at a level that is not unhealthy for people with respiratory illness.

But closer to the fires, public health officials are warning people to evacuate areas with heavy smoke. People with sensitive respiratory illnesses, such as asthmatics and the elderly, should try to limit exposure to the outdoors if they can smell smoke.

The fire in Bastrop County has emitted enough smoke that it can be seen from outer space.

Update at 12:27 p.m.

People evacuated from the Steiner Ranch subdivision are now being allowed to return to their homes. They will have to show photo ID to be let back in.

We haven't been paying as much attention to the Jack Mountain fire near Fort Hood, given the immediate blazes in the Austin-area. But that wildfire grew by 700 acres overnight and has now blackened 3,700 acres.  No evacuation orders have been issued.

Tensions got pretty high in northern Hays County last night as the Pedernales One fire appeared to be marching southward from Travis County toward Hays. Some evacuation orders had been issued, but were later rescinded once it became apparent that the fire wasn't immediately about to cross the county line.

This morning, Hays County discontinued its fire information hotline for citizens and is now asking people to follow updates on their Twitterfeed.

Check outthis picture of the smoke from the Bastrop fire rising behind the Austin skyline.

Update at 11:55 a.m.

The stubborn wildfire in Bastrop County has grown to almost 30,000 acres, and is zero percent contained. The blaze has already destroyed 476 buildings, despite the bold efforts of firefighters working to contain the inferno. Details on evacuation centers and road closures here.

Meanwhile, at Bastrop State Park, officials have been working hard to preserve Depression-era historic structures. But they now say that two may have been damaged by the fire.  All but 100 acres of the 6,000 acre state park have been ravaged by flames.

Park officials are also worried about the effects of the wildfires on the endangered Houston toad. The Lost Pines area of Bastrop is home to the largest known population of the amphibian.

The fire has also damaged the regional state park headquarters on State Highway 71.

The phones are out at Seton Smithville Regional Hospital as a result of the fire. The hospital itself is not damaged, nor is it in the fire's path at this time. Calls to the main number, 512-237-5777, have been routed to one cell phone. Hospital officials ask that you only call in the event of an emergency.

Update at 10:50 a.m.

The Austin Police Department says Steiner Ranch will reopen to evacuees at noon, according to KUT's Erika Aguilar. Units will patrol the area and ask non-residents to leave.

Earlier this morning, Governor Perry held a news conference at Steiner Ranch and hoped the weather would cooperate with firefighting efforts.

"As long as this wind stays down, we're going to be substantially well served from the point of containment," he said. The hourly forecast suggests wind speeds could increase slightly this afternoon but will likely remain below 10 miles per hour.

Perry also couldn't resist a swipe at the federal government for what he says has been a slow response to requests for heavy equipment from Fort Hood.

State Sen. Kirk Watson (D-Austin) also spoke at the morning briefing. He urged non-Steiner Ranch residents to avoid the temptation to go see the damage for themselves.

"Those of us that don't live in Steiner Ranch need to make sure we're out of the way," he said. "I know we're interested. I know we care. I know we want to see what's going on. But we will best serve our neighbors, our family members, and our friends if we stay out of the way."

In other developments, you can see the Bastrop fire from outer space. Check out this image from NASA.

Last night's fire in Leander destroyed ten homes and damaged nine. The cause of the blaze is under investigation. Fire crews are still in the area this morning, suppressing flare-ups.

Update at 8:30 a.m.

  • The Travis County Sheriff’s Office told KUT News that as of six this morning the Spicewood fire is 80%  contained. The fire burned over 6,400 acres and damaged more than 60 structures including homes and barns. Highway 71 is shut down in both directions from the Hays-Travis county line to Pace Bend Road.

Update at 7:30 a.m.

  • The Leander Fire Department worked through the night on the fire off Moonglow. Williamson County officials say firefighters were responding to a possible flare-up this morning.
  • Residents of Mason Creek that were evacuated were allowed to return to their homes yesterday evening.
  • Williamson County says residents of Mason Creek North and High Chapparal won’t be allowed home until this morning at about 10 a.m.

As dawn broke over Central Texas the horizon was ringed with smoke and the smell of smoke was heavy in parts of Austin.
Update at 6:55 a.m.

  • Firefighters continue to battle wildfires that have scorched thousands of acres, destroyed hundreds of homes and forced evacuations across Central Texas.  Manchac Fire Chief Chris Barron working with the Austin Travis Emergency Management Center says the Bastrop fire-now over 25,000 acres- is uncontained and out of control.  Barron says about 500 homes have been lost in Bastrop County.  The Spicewood fire near the Pedernales River has burned about 6,000 acres.  Barron says things are slowing down at the Steiner Ranch fire. He says firefighters are getting it under control. Steiner Ranch residents will get an update later this morning as to whether they can return home.


  •  Austin Disaster Relief has released a phone number for residents who wish to donate money to victims of the wildfires. You can call 331 2200 for more information, or visit their websitedirectly. Fire victims can call 331 2600.
  • School is canceled for Bastrop and Smithville ISD students today.
  • The followingLeander ISD schools are closed today: Laura Bush, Steiner Ranch, and River Ridge elementary schools. Canyon Ridge, Four Points and Wiley Middle Schools are closed and
  • Vandegrift High School is being used as a shelter for evacuees from the Steiner Ranch fire
  • People evacuated because of the fire near Leander need to check in at Rouse High School, 1501 County Road 271 in Leander.
  • A Williamson County spokeswoman says officials will reevaluate at ten this morning whether Leander residents who evacuated will be allowed to return home.
  • Travis County residents who have evacuated because of the wildfires can call 974-61-99 for updated information.
  • Bastrop County Residents who have evacuated can call 581-4023 for information.
  • Hays county residents who have evacuated can call 753-2180 for information.
  • The American Red Cross of Central Texas is accepting cash donations but not material goods.
Nathan Bernier is the transportation reporter at KUT. He covers the big projects that are reshaping how we get around Austin, like the I-35 overhaul, the airport's rapid growth and the multibillion dollar transit expansion Project Connect. He also focuses on the daily changes that affect how we walk, bike and drive around the city. Got a tip? Email him at Follow him on Twitter @KUTnathan.
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