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Wildfire Updates September 9, 2011

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Photo by Jeff Heimsath for KUT News
A power meter melted by flames in the Bastrop community of Tahitian Village

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. 

Update at 1:53 p.m.

Texas Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst struck a confrontational tone with Washington this morning at an appearance in Bastrop. Borrowing language from President Obama’s address to a joint session of Congress last night, Dewhurst demanded the feds grant a statewide emergency declaration “right away.” Dewhurst is running for a United States Senate seat being vacated by Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison.

Bastrop County public safety officials say they will not be holding an afternoon press briefing. This marks the first day this week that they will not have two news conferences in one day.

A five-mile stretch of Lake Travis reopened at 10:45 this morning after being closed earlier this week for firefighting efforts. Planes and helicopters were using the area to pull water for dumping on the flames. Three parks and nature centers in Bastrop County are still closed, including Bastrop State Park.

 The City of Austin is reminding people that there is still a ban on smoking and grilling in public parks. Only propane stoves are allowed, and only if they’re in the designated picnic areas. Parks and Recreation workers are installing “No Smoking, Burn Ban” signs throughout Austin parks starting today.

Update at 12:54 p.m.

Firefighters combating the 34,000 acre Bastrop Complex blaze were short on specifics, but said they had a "good night" making progress.

The Bastrop ISD believes the number of homeless students it has among its 9,000 student population will "triple, quadruple, or even more," when classes resume on Monday.  Before the fire, Bastrop ISD had 300 students who qualified as homeless. The fire has destroyed almost 1,400 homes and that number could grow.

KUT's Matt Largey went on a ride-along with firefighters into the Bastrop Complex fire burn zone. He filed this report.

Ever wonder if mandatory evacuations are really mandatory? We talked to one individual who ignored calls to leave and tried to save his home with a garden hose. He wound up with second degree burns and his house was destroyed. (Story)

Update at 10:22 a.m.

We are awaiting another 10:30 a.m. update by emergency management officials.

A DC-10 will not be used today in Bastrop County. The jet airliner can drop almost 12,000 gallons of retardant on a fire in a single pass. But it will be used at a large fire in the Houston-area counties of Grimes, Montgomery and Waller.

Governor Perry wrote a letter to President Obama pressing him on the need for federal aid. Perry urges Obama to grant his request for a Major Disaster Declaration as soon as possible.

Wildfire victims can learn how to salvage records damaged by fire or water at a free workshop from 2 p.m. until 5 p.m. on Sunday, September 11 at the School of Information on Guadalupe Street near 16th Street. Space is limited. Call 512-903-9564 to reserve a spot.

Air Tanker to Help Fight Wildfires

Texas firefighters are expected to get big help in fighting wildfires today.  The Texas Forest Service has called in a DC-10 air tanker and says it should be in the air this morning. The tanker is capable of dropping more than 11,000 gallons of fire retardant at a time.

A Forest Service spokeswoman says the aircraft was brought in to assist the whole state, not just one fire.  As of last night, the Bastrop Complex fire was still 30 percent contained. It has scorched at least 34,000 acres.

About 1,400 homes have been destroyed. Here's Bastrop County's list of addresses of homes that have been confirmed destroyed.  This is a partial list only and is being updated as new info flows in.

Red Cross Giving out Clean Up Supplies

The Red Cross of Central Texas will be giving out free supplies at the Home Depot at 112 Hunters Crossing Blvd. in Bastrop starting at 10 a.m.  They will be giving out items such as gloves, masks and shovels.

"Even if it looks like nothing is left, that is still someone's home and sometimes personal items survive fire, it's pretty common, so we actually provide some of the things people need to go back to their property and look for personal items and start the next steps to move on," Red Cross spokeswoman Sara Kennedy said.

The Red Cross started giving out clean up supplies at the same Home Depot at 5 p.m. Thursday.

Wondering how you can help? Here's a list of places where you can drop off donations for fire victims.

School Updates

On its website Smithville ISD still says it  hopes to resume classes on Monday. Bastrop ISD has not yet announced when it expects to start classes again.