Monday, September 5, 2011

Catastrophic fires burn thousands of acres, force evacuations across Central Texas

In a summer where brush fires have become a near-daily occurrence, firefighting officials said the multiple wildfires that raged across Central Texas on Sunday were the worst the region has seen all year.

Numerous wind-driven fires pushed fire departments to their limits and forced evacuations in Bastrop County, the Steiner Ranch subdivision, Pflugerville, Spicewood and other areas. Scores of residents were left wondering whether they had homes to return to as many of the fires continued to burn Sunday night.

The largest and most destructive fire was in Bastrop County, where a blaze burned 14,000 acres and grew to an estimated 16 miles long by the end of the day, said Mark Stanford, fire chief of the Texas Forest Service.

"It's catastrophic," Stanford said of the Bastrop County fire. "It's a major natural disaster."

Forest Service spokeswoman Lexi Maxwell said that fire began about 2 p.m. in the Circle D subdivision off Texas 71. It merged with another fire north of there that pushed south and crossed over Texas 21 and Texas 71, Maxwell said. Aerial units estimated that at least 300 homes had been damaged or destroyed by the fire.

Maxwell said another, unrelated fire was reported in the Colony subdivision in Bastrop County, which also forced evacuations.

"This was far and away the most catastrophic day for Central Texas fires," Maxwell said. more