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'One way out': Firefighters and evacuees face problems responding to Hays County fire

Two helicopters fly next to each other in an orange haze.
Courtesy
/
Brandon James
Helicopter crews respond to the Oak Grove Fire on Saturday in Hays County.

The Oak Grove Fire in Hays County has burned approximately 400 acres and is 65% contained, as of Monday afternoon, according to the Texas A&M Forest Service wildfire map.

The fire — which started Saturday near the 200 block of Oak Grove Road, about halfway between Wimberley and Kyle — isn't advancing, which means crews are now making sure it doesn't pick back up again, Forest Service spokesperson Walter Flocke said.

"We're taking care of the forecast one week at a time," he said. The agency expects wildfires will continue to pop up across Texas over the course of the next two weeks.

Firefighters will be prioritizing the area north of the Blanco River, where helicopters will spray water over active fire and crews will eliminate sources of heat that could catch on fire.

"We enter a phase called 'mop-up,'" Flocke said, describing the process of making sure a fire that's been extinguished stays out. "[It's] basically the dirty work of firefighting."

Kyle Mayor Travis Mitchell said it can be hard for crews to access some of these rural areas. He said residents trying to evacuate the area had to drive in the direction of the fire to get out of the neighborhood. "If there's a fire or a flood, they run the potential of getting trapped," he said.

A map shows the area of the wildfire, marked in red, spreading over the Blanco River in Hays County.
Texas A&M Forest Service
A Texas A&M Forest Service map shows the boundaries of the Oak Grove Fire as of Sunday.

Mitchell said the lack of accessibility also caused a problem for firefighters on the ground when the fire moved north across the Blanco River.

"There's only one path in," he said. "The crews that are fighting the fire can't follow [the fire] across the Blanco without having to drive halfway around the county."

Mitchell said a development agreement passed in 2015 aimed to extend roads in the region into other neighborhoods and would have built a bridge across the Blanco. However, he said, the project never got funded.

"There was quite a bit of pushback from the folks who lived over there," Mitchell said. "I think the community's probably more interested in that type of public safety infrastructure than they may have been in the past."

For those living in rural areas at risk of wildfires, Flocke recommends knowing your neighborhood and creating an evacuation plan.

"It's a common story with fire evacuations that many roads and many areas are one way in and one way out," he said.

Flocke said it's important to know if you live in a fire-risk zone and to sign up for text alerts.

Critical fire weather is forecast Monday with a drop in humidity, high winds and high temperatures, according to the Forest Service. A red flag warning will be in effect through the evening.

Maya Fawaz is KUT's Hays County reporter. Got a tip? Email her at mfawaz@kut.org. Follow her on Twitter @mayagfawaz.
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