Firefighters make 'good progress' against Bastrop wildfire as officials promise an investigation
All evacuees from the Rolling Pines Fire in Bastrop County were able to return to their homes by the end of Wednesday, County Judge Paul Pape said.
Some residents — those who live northwest of State Highway 21 — were able to return home first, Pape said in a 3:15 p.m. news conference. The county judge said SH 21, which had been closed since Tuesday afternoon, is now reopened. He asked people who don't live in the area to stay away in order to give emergency workers and evacuees the space they need.
Pape said residents of Pine Hills Estates will be allowed to return home at 6 p.m. Wednesday.
Officials warned that when a cold front moved in Wednesday evening, it would shift the smoke from the fire toward the City of Bastrop. Firefighters reported Thursday morning that their containment lines around the fire area held and they will continue putting out hot spots during the day.
Firefighters will be on duty all night Wednesday and all day Thursday until the fire is 100% contained, Pape said.
As of Thursday morning, the wildfire had burned 783 acres and was 58% contained.
Earlier, fire crews said that they made "good progress" overnight Tuesday and into Wednesday morning in stopping the spread of the wildfire, which led to the evacuation of about 250 families.
Firefighters said there was no active fire in the main evacuation area and that no residences have been destroyed. There are no known injuries.
The weather Wednesday morning was described as helpful for firefighters, with high humidity and calmer winds. Kari Hines, a Texas A&M Forest Service spokesperson, said firefighters on the ground were preparing for the cold front.
The front is expected to bring higher winds to the area around 5 p.m. Firefighters are paying special attention to the southern boundaries of the fire to stop it from spreading in the evening, Hines said.
On Tuesday, officials said the fire likely started from a prescribed burn at Bastrop State Park earlier that morning. Carter Smith, executive director of the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department, said embers from the fire may have sparked fires outside of the boundaries of the prescribed burn.
Bastrop resident Danny Wheeler was among those waiting to get back into his home. He said he and his family were evacuated Tuesday because the power was shut off. But later that night, his family was allowed to go back onto their property.
Wheeler said, as a Bastrop resident of more than 20 years who lived through his home burning down during the 2011 fires, he felt this fire did not pose the same threat.
"The fire is pretty bad, but you don't have 35- to 55-mile-an-hour wind gusts,” Wheeler said. “I mean, this fire is containable.”
He left his home Wednesday for a quick trip to the gas station, and on his way back, he was blocked by state troopers. And he’s now been waiting hours until the road clears.
“I think they're just going a little overboard on things,” he said. “They’re being a little bit too safe."
Bastrop resident Miguel, who asked that his last name not be shared, has also lived in the county for more than 20 years. He shared Wheeler’s frustration at not being able to return home.
“The person who was responsible for the prescribed burn needs to have charges pressed against them, or needs to resign immediately,” he said. “This is shameful. Of all counties, [in] Bastrop County, we should know better than to have a fire right now.”
The two were waiting out at a gas station on SH 21 until further notice.
Pape said Texas Parks & Wildlife has committed to a review of how the prescribed burn started a threatening wildfire.
"I do want to assure our citizens that having a controlled burn get out of hand is not acceptable in Bastrop County," Pape said. "That is not something that we ever want. There will be a full investigation."
Smith said the "number one priority" at the moment is protecting the community. Once the fire is out, his department will return, investigate and share the results with the community.
"Nobody wants to know those answers more than our team at Texas Parks and Wildlife Department," he said.
This story has been updated.