Fires burn across Central Texas, destroy hundreds of homes

Jillian Bliss

Fires raged across Central Texas this weekend, affecting the Pflugerville, Bastrop County, Travis County and Hays County areas.

Austin mayor Lee Leffingwell said despite success in controlling fires in the greater Austin area, Bastrop County officials are still fighting to stop fires from spreading. The San Antonio Express-News reported 25,000 acres consumed by the Bastrop fires, with approximately 476 homes destroyed. Gov. Rick Perry returned from out-of-state campaigning for the presidency to address Bastrop citizens.

“[The fire] is not in the city of Austin,” Leffingwell said. “But we don’t work that way. We think of this area as a region, and we’re all in this together.”

Approximately 50 homes in Steiner Ranch have been damaged or destroyed, and Travis County Fire Chief Jim Linardos said residents are not allowed to return to the subdivision until at least Tuesday morning. Travis County police are asking residents to cooperate with possible road closures and detours and to stay away from restricted areas until they are notified of updates.

Linardos said at a press conference Monday that fire and rescue crews were able to keep fires around Lake Travis contained at 25 percent, and no fatalities have been recorded as of Monday. Officials were still working to contain an additional fire nearby in the Pedernales Bend area as of press time.

According to Reuters, 60 separate wildfires spread across the state Monday, killing two in northeast Texas.

Danny Hobby, executive manager of Travis County Emergency Operations, said agencies and fire crews from across Texas are working to help victims in addition to stopping the fires. Hobby said he is glad Texans can come together in this time of need.

Travis County officials set up an overnight shelter at Vandegrift High School to provide solace for residents escaping fires around the Steiner Ranch subdivision. Members of St. Luke’s on the Lake Episcopal Church set up an additional “safe place” on church property across from Steiner Ranch.

“This is just what our church does,” said parish leader Allen Griswold. “When we heard about the fires we started getting our stuff together, and within three hours we had people showing up with food and water. We’re continually feeding people from Steiner Ranch and doing what we can to help.”

Griswold said the church serves as a meeting place where people come to exchange knowledge of the situation, as well as to rest and rehydrate.

Linardos said people are the source for 90 percent of fires, and he urges citizens to do what they can to prevent the possibility of more disasters.

“Your fire resources in this area are stretched thin,” Linardos said. “Don’t test them.”

Printed on September 6, 2011 as: Fires spark tragedy