Austin's NPR Station
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
Available On Air Stations
Texas

Bastrop Fire Situation “Getting Stable”

edited_2011_09_12_Bastrop_Wildfires3440.jpg
Photo by Jeff Heimsath for KUT News
A mail box label notifies letter carriers that a Bastrop fire evacuee has yet to return home.

Firefighters in Bastrop successfully battled about 18 flare-ups yesterday as winds gusted to 20 miles per hour and the relative humidity dropped below 15 percent. The weather outlook is slightly worse for today, but fire officials are optimistic they can contain the stubborn wildfire that has persisted for 11 days.

Most of yesterday’s flare-ups were in areas already blackened by the 34,000-acre wildfire. Fire crews and helicopters moved quickly to extinguish them. About 600 firefighters are still working on the Bastrop Complex blaze.

Meteorologists predict slightly stronger winds and low humidity today, but nothing like the 40 mile per hour gusts that initially fanned the flames on Labor Day weekend when the fire began.

 “We’re beginning to see now progress enough to where this incident is becoming stable,” Bastrop County Emergency Management Coordinator Mike Fisher said in a morning news briefing. “Given that we can get through today […], we’re gaining on that stability every day.”

Forecaster Bob Rose at the Lower Colorado River Authority says wind gusts are already picking up above 20 miles an hour this morning. He says the relative humidity will likely drop below 20 percent this afternoon.  

“The combination of the gusty winds and the low humidity are going to make for near critical fire weather conditions today,” Rose told KUT News.

Meanwhile, Bluebonnet Electric CEO Mark Rose says they have restored power to 2,260 customers, and still has 278 subscribers without electricity. Rose says utility crews are providing assistance from all over the country.

“Crew after crew says they’ve never worked an event like this,” Rose said. “They’ve done hurricane work, but just the intensity of the damage, the environment they are working with.”

Making matters particularly complicated is a requirement that all downed trees be completely removed from the site so as not to provide fuel for future fires.

“Where you normally would bring a hydro ax in there, cut a tree down, chip it and leave it, we can’t do that. We can only leave tree trunks,” Rose said. “It is absolutely a tremendous challenge.”

Because of that challenge, Rose said they will be slowing power restoration efforts in a central area of the burn zone. According to this Bluebonnet Electric map, those subscribers won’t have power restored until early October.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency has registered 1,876 wildfire victims for federal aid. A FEMA official said 1,220 residents are eligible for temporary housing assistance.

“Even if you’re uncertain whether or not you may qualify, please register at our local disaster recovery center,” FEMA spokesperson Ericka Lopez said.

The center is located at 1602 Hill St. in Bastrop and is open from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. from Monday to Saturday, and 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. on Sunday. People can also register by phone at 1-800-621-FEMA or online at www.disasterassistance.gov.