Evacuees returning to homes after fire

Contributed/Burnet County ESD Commissioner Clayton Smith
A lone individual with a water hose is doing his best to help fight the County Road 116/Park Road 4 fire as flames rise on a nearby ridge. Some 557 acres have burned and the fire is 60 percent contained as of Tuesday morning.





By Savanna Gregg

Burnet Bulletin

Texas A&M Forest Service (TFS) officials were hopeful residents evacuated from Park Road 4 and County Road 116 (Hoover Valley Road) due to fire would be allowed to return to their homes at 5 p.m. Tuesday, July 31.

More than 50 local personnel from 17 different departments have responded to a blaze which consumed 557 acres, forced evacuations of residents from 150 homes and closed the two major roads as well as Inks Lake State Park.

Fortunately, no one has been killed or injured and no homes have been reported damaged from the grass fire, which began at about 2:52 p.m. Sunday, July 29, along County Road 116, better known as Hoover Valley Road, near Park Road 4, close to Inks Lake State Park, and quickly escalated to yet another raging wildfire for Burnet County.

TFS officials said residents would be allowed to return to their homes at Tuesday afternoon with proof of residency.

Otherwise, the roads were expected to reopen at 9 p.m.

The Texas A&M Forest Service (TFS), which has heavy equipment and fire engine crews on scene, reported Tuesday the fire was 60 percent contained by dozers and forward progression of the fire had been stopped, though some outbuildings were damaged by the blaze.

The fire was believed to have been started by an all-terrain vehicle, or ATV, as dead grass which had accumulated around the exhaust system ignited and caught fire, Burnet County Judge James Oakley said Tuesday afternoon.

According to TFS, crews were still reinforcing containment lines and mopping up the fire, though progress was slow because of the hilly terrain.

Helicopters were making good progress with dousing hot spots. On Sunday night, heavy equipment had constructed a containment line until 4 a.m. Monday and local fire departments patrolled the area until relief crews could arrive Monday morning.

Crews from multiple cooperating state agencies, from both inside and outside of Texas, were ordered through TFS and prepositioned across the state due to high fire danger earlier this month and have responded to this fire.

Inks Lake State Park reopened Monday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. to allow campers to return to designated campgrounds to retrieve their items left behind by mandatory evacuations as some 400 people had to leave the area Sunday.

Camp Longhorn conducted a voluntary evacuation of 800 campers as a precautionary measure after it became apparent that the blaze was out of control. The campers were relocated to a neighboring camp and were expected to return Tuesday morning.

The Deer Springs subdivision off Texas 29 West was closed Sunday, but the subdivision was reopened by 8:45 pm. Sunday and residents living in the area east of Ranch-to-Market Road 3509 and County Road 143 were able to return to their homes.

An opportunity for respite was offered by the City of Burnet, which opened the doors of the Burnet Community Center to evacuees from the threatened area; the community center was to remain open as long as needed. Nancy Keck, interact chair for the Burnet VFW Post 6974, announced Sunday evening the post will also be open to assist in any way possible.

Burnet CISD bus drivers also chipped in Sunday, helping evacuate campers at Indian Springs and transport them to safety.

Texas A&M Forest Service Information Officer Kari Hines stated to various news agencies in a press hearing Sunday evening that the dry, hot weather was to blame for the difficulty in containing the blaze.

“There have been a lot of fires in the past few weeks in the Central and North Texas regions, and they have been fueled by how dry it has been, but luckily there is no high wind today,” Hines said.

“This fire is a little different because of the proximity to high populations.”

Oakley joined city and county officials near the scene to assess the fire Sunday afternoon.

“I think we have been fairly lucky thus far in that this fire was pretty much contained to the State Park area and there weren’t any structures lost,” Oakley said.

“Things are so dry and the fuel is so spark ready that this fire burned hot and moved fast.”

Oakley witnessed the fire move towards State Highway 29 West and jump across the pavement to the other side, as it spread down the area off of Farm-to-Market Road 690.

“I watched it jump a 75-foot road like nothing,” Oakley said. “It just sailed it.”

Oakley commended the local and state officials working the fire, as well as the volunteers who have offered their time to protect and serve the people of their community.

“What it is is a testament to teamwork,” Oakley said. “Volunteers from all over the county, state folks, emergency medical personnel at the ready; it is just teamwork. It is not our first rodeo, and it’s not going to be our last, but every fire that happens we learn to better hone our skills and ability to address the issues that arise.

“Today, this event happened but I am very proud of everyone and all the coordination that occurred with the resources in our area that piled in on this to get it under control.”

According to Hines, about 17 fire departments have been working the fire, which represent Burnet, Llano, Blanco, Williamson and Travis counties.

The Texas A&M Forest Service will continue updating officials on the progress of the first responders’ efforts and the Burnet Bulletin will post those updates as they come available on their Facebook page and website, burnetbulletin.com.

Meanwhile, two other fires in Llano County have been 100 percent contained as of Monday, July 30.

The Scott fire off Llano County Road 308 near Red Mountain consumed 109 acres after being reported Thursday evening.

The Skybreak fire off Smith Crossley Ranch Road near Ranch to Market Road 962 consumed 55 acres after being reported Friday night.

The Skybreak fire is believed to have been caused by a flareup from the Smith-West 962 fire from the previous week. Fire departments from Llano, Burnet and Blanco counties, along with Texas Forest Service, worked the scene and got the fire contained with helicopter support, dozer ground work and brush trucks and hoses.

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