Jan 19, 2022 - Energy & Environment

Families evacuate as wildfire threatens communities near Bastrop, Texas

Fire burning on Texas Hwy 21 Tuesday, Jan. 18, east of Bastrop and west of 1441. Photo courtesy of Bluebonnet Electric Cooperative

The wildfire burning east of Bastrop, Texas, on Tuesday. Photo: Bluebonnet Electric Cooperative 

Even as firefighters reported some overnight success, the Rolling Pines Fire east of Austin remains a threat Wednesday morning to residential communities, forcing more than 250 families to evacuate.

Driving the news: Officials said it was too early to draw conclusions about the cause of the wildfire, which is running roughly along the same burn scar of a record 2011 blaze. But it was likely linked to a planned, 150-acre burn in Bastrop State Park, they added.

  • "We do think that it is likely that embers from the prescribed fire were the cause of the fire outside the park," Carter Smith, executive director of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, said in a Tuesday evening press conference.

Threat level: As of 6am Wednesday, an estimated 630 acres had burned, and the fire was 10% contained, local officials said.

  • Hundreds of firefighters, including nine members of the Austin Fire Department, were deployed to the scene as helicopters dumped water and retardant on the flames.
  • Electricity crews de-energized power lines for the safety of emergency crews and residents.
  • Light winds overnight allowed firefighters to approach the fire at closer range.
  • Officials say thick smoke will continue to be a safety factor throughout the day in the area.
  • Some roads remained closed Wednesday morning, including parts of Texas Highway 21.

Worth noting: Residents expressed outrage on social media, noting that Bastrop officials spent recent days warning against outdoor burning amid dry and windy conditions.

  • There was no burn ban in effect in the area, according to Bastrop County Judge Paul Pape.
  • Pape added that fire management officials followed all protocols surrounding controlled burns.

What they're saying: "Based on everything they knew this morning, it was an appropriate day to burn," Pape said. "None of us can predict the weather more than 15 minutes ahead of time, and sometimes things just happen that we just don't anticipate."

  • "But I'm not going to be critical of the efforts to protect our citizens from wildfire by using prescribed burn," he added.

Flashback: The 2011 Bastrop County Complex Fire was the most destructive wildfire in state history, killing four people, destroying nearly 1,700 homes and causing $325 million of insured property damage.

  • Likely ignited by a spark from a downed electric line, the inferno roasted parts of Bastrop State Park and wiped out pine trees, leaving behind a charred, apocalyptic landscape.

Editor's note: This story has been updated with new details about the fire since publication.

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