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Texas

Bastrop Effort Shifts To Recovery, Rebuilding

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Photo by Jeff Heimsath for KUT News

Firefighting efforts are winding down in Bastrop County as crews finally tame the restless blaze that has blackened 34,000 acres. No fire is burning outside the containment lines. The blaze is now considered 80 percent contained.

Weather over the next few days is “becoming our friend,” Bastrop County Emergency Management Coordinator Mike Fisher said, noting that wind speeds and temperatures are lower while humidity is above 50 percent.

“We’re beginning to see sort of the end of this,” Fisher said.

Demobilization plans are underway to allow state firefighting resources to leave the area and become ready for other assignments. The last night shift for firefighters will end at midnight.

But Fisher said crews will be patrolling the fire zone until they are confident that all the embers have been snuffed, which could be a week or longer.

Meanwhile, a gargantuan effort is underway to begin the process of clearing debris, restoring utility service, and eventually, rebuilding more than 1,600 homes annihilated by the wildfire.

Bluebonnet Electric is not only trying to rebuild power lines, but also must clear their path of brambles and brush that could fuel a future wildfire. The utility is working with arborists to remove and shred trees that have a 70 percent chance of dying.

The pace of power restoration is quickening. The longest people will have to wait for electricity is September 28. Previously, those customers had not been scheduled for restoration until October.

Many people whose homes were destroyed are sifting through the ash and clearing their property. Bastrop County Commissioner Clara Beckett asked people to separate wood from metal debris and to avoid touching green ash, because it may include harmful chemicals.

She also asked people to bury dead animals, if possible. Otherwise, evacuees can call Bastrop County’s Road and Bridge Department, but she said it may take a while for them to show up, given their heavy workload.

Amid the stress of rebuilding a community, Bastrop County will have an opportunity for celebration tonight. Smithville High School is celebrating its homecoming.

“It’s important to get together with your friends and your family,” Bastrop County victim services coordinator Lisa Jackson said. “If you can get away, get out. Have a little fun. Take a break from the stress.”