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Firefighters Had “Good Night” on Bastrop Complex Fire

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Photo by Mose Buchele, KUT News
Children's drawings thanking firefighters for their effort were taped to the front door of the Bastrop Convention Center this morning.

Public safety officials are increasingly reluctant to provide specifics on exactly what progress is being made to combat a behemoth of a wildfire that has consumed more than 34,000 acres in Bastrop County, but they say the situation is improving.

“Things are looking pretty good out there. It’s simply a matter of time,” Bastrop County Emergency Management Coordinator Mike Fisher said in a morning news briefing. He said a few embers had flitted across the fire line overnight, but crews were able to extinguish the flames quickly. Fisher is still pegging the level of containment around the 50 mile perimeter at 30 percent.

A plan to use a DC-10 jet airliner to drop 12,000 gallon batches of fire retardant on the stubborn Bastrop Complex blaze was canceled. The United States Forest Service is making the plane available to combat fires across the state, and a more urgent situation was assessed north of Houston, where a fire has scorched 15,000 acres.

After six long days, patience is growing thin among hundreds of evacuated residents. During morning press briefings, evacuees are increasingly irate in demanding answers from public officials when reporters are trying to ask questions. County and state officials will answer the occasional question from a resident, but usually they will ask them to hold their inquiries until after the press conference.

To this point in briefings, Bastrop County Judge Ronnie McDonald has been noticeable for his stoic demeanor. But this morning, he appealed to the public spirit of discontented residents.

“Out of this something great is going to come, and the reason something great is going to come out of this is because of who we are as a community,” McDonald said. “The thing that’s going to make us last is how we work with each other. How we support each other. How we love each other through this process. Beauty for ashes,” he said.

But as inspiring as the moment may have seemed, the community of Bastrop faces a long hard slog of rebuilding after the final flames are extinguished.

The Bastrop Independent School District, for example, hopes to return to some level of normalcy on Monday by reopening its doors to 9,000 students. But with almost 1,400 homes confirmed destroyed, the number of students considered homeless could balloon.

“We anticipate the homeless student count in Bastrop ISD to triple, quadruple or even more,” Bastrop ISD Superintendent Steve Murray said, noting the district had 300 homeless students before the wildfire. “We understand there’s going to be special needs for all those students who are designated as homeless.”

Murray said administrators will receive special training on dealing with students whose homes have been destroyed. The district will provide free breakfast and lunch to all students, regardless of whether they qualify under federal poverty guidelines.

Meanwhile, Bluebonnet Electric power crews are attempting to restore power to the area. The utility has produced this anticipated timeline of restoration, but Bluebonnet CEO Mark Rose says he needs local residents to be patient.

“We had someone enter a burn area yesterday while we were doing our work. A person was picking up a power line and pulling it off his lot,” Rose said. “We assume that line is de-energized, but that is not the way to find out.”

Rose said some residents were telling crews not to cut down trees to conduct repairs. “We are going to cut trees down,” he said.

Public safety officials will not be holding another press briefing this afternoon.

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