[Updated at 9:08 a.m.,name of Bastrop center]
Fires continued to burn across Texas on Tuesday, creating chaos some believe will justify declaring a natural disaster.
Bastrop County officials said at a press conference Tuesday evening that Federal Emergency Management Agency representatives are currently reviewing requests to declare the area a natural disaster.
Mike Fisher, coordinator for Bastrop County Emergency Management, said approximately 34,800 acres have burned within the county and 336 fire crew personnel have been brought in from across the state to combat the flames. Fire crews have determined the fires were responsible for two deaths, but as of press time were not able to release names or information on the fatalities. Fisher said approximately 577 homes in the Bastrop area have been devastated or destroyed and at least 20 neighborhoods evacuated.
“Damage to this community is reflective of all Texas,” said Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples. “This is the worst burn season ever.”
Fisher said fire crews are making progress at containing both the original Bastrop County Complex fire and the Union Chapel fire, which began burning after the first Bastrop fire and is located in the southwestern part of the county. He said approximately 15 percent of the Union Chapel fire is contained, but crews have not been able to bring any of the Bastrop County Complex fire under control.
Officials are currently surveying damage where possible, and the earliest residents can hope to return to their homes is the upcoming weekend, he said.
“The reality is even if the Union Chapel fire was the only fire we had, I’d still be heartbroken,” Fisher said. “I feel for these folks. The sooner we get these people back home the better off we are.”
Evacuation centers were set up at Bastrop Middle School, Bastrop Ascension Catholic Church, Bastrop Christian Outreach Center, Elgin Family Worship and the Smithville Recreation Center for residents displaced during the fire.
Bastrop residents such as 16-year-old Kaine Turner, who were not directly impacted by the fires, are donating their time to the different shelters, distributing supplies and comforting refugees. Turner said he called everyone he knew when he first heard of the fires and took advantage of public school closures to support his community. Tamara Turner, Kaine’s mother, said her son inspired the rest of the family to volunteer as well.
The fire that blazed through the Steiner Ranch area Monday is 45-percent contained as of press time, and residents were allowed to return to the subdivision Tuesday at noon. Fire crews are still investigating origins of the fire, although downed power lines are believed to be the source of the disaster. Travis County Fire Chief Jim Linardos said area residents should still take caution, as crews are still working to contain more of the fire. Shelters at Vandegrift High School and Rouse High School have been set up for residents facing potential long-term displacement.
Steve Termeer, general manager of the UT Golf Club located within Steiner Ranch, said club staff became very concerned when asked to evacuate Monday. Termeer said the club previously suffered a fire in 2008 that caused $7 million in losses.
“We completely lost the clubhouse before,” Termeer said. “It looks like we lost power for a little less than 24 hours, but we didn’t lose anything at all which is great because this really could have gone the other way.”