The number of homes destroyed by wildfires in a single Texas county had risen to 1,554 as of Sept. 11, 2011. The massive Bastrop County Complex fire was one of a rash of wildfires that broke out across drought-stricken Texas in early September. Officials expect the damage statistics to rise as the blazes in Bastrop and other areas of the state are extinguished. Statewide, an estimated 1,939 homes were lost to fires in the first weeks of September.
With the Bastrop County Complex fire 60 percent contained, the Texas Forest Service laid out a plan to let area residents begin surveying what was left of their properties. The blaze, which began on Sept. 4, charred more than 34,000 acres.
Re-entry into the fire swept Bastrop County neighborhoods began on Sept. 12 for specified subdivisions.
Bastrop County officials were joined by Democratic U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett in an effort to provide new information to hundreds of residents evacuated from their when blustering wind whipped up by Tropical Storm Lee swept across parched, drought-stricken Texas, helping to spark more than 190 wildfires statewide.
Many people were given only minutes to evacuate as the flames surrounded homes and neighborhoods. Some had time to only gather a few important belongings. Others left with only the clothes on their back.
There are two known dead as a result of the Bastrop fires. Seventeen residents of the fire-swept area were unaccounted for as of Sept. 11 but Bastrop County Sheriff Terry Pickering said they could simply be out of town.
“They could have been on vacation,” he said.
Two deaths were also reported over the Labor Day weekend as the result of a wildfire near the northeast Texas town of Gladewater. That blaze claimed the life of a 20 year old woman and her 18 month old daughter when their mobile home was destroyed by flames, the Insurance Council of Texas reported. The fire destroyed approximately 20 homes and burned an estimated 450 acres.
The federal government has declared Texas a disaster area, paving the way for individuals to get financial aid. Doggett said the Federal Emergency Management Agency will incur 75 percent of the costs of fighting the fires, and families will be eligible for up to $30,000 to pay for expenses not covered by insurance policies, such as hotel bills, temporary housing and even construction costs.
“The $30,000 can only go so far toward the expenses that some of you have,” Doggett said. “But I think it can be a lot of assistance.”
In addition to the Bastrop County fires, fires broke out in the Central Texas communities of Leander, Steiner Ranch and Spicewood.
More than two dozen homes were destroyed in the Steiner Ranch area near Lake Travis, west of Austin. The Steiner Ranch fire covered around 125 acres and resulted in the evacuation of around 1,000 homes.
Another fire spread from western Travis County into Hays County, claiming 67 homes and thousands of acres. The Pedernales Bend fire, near Spicewood, burned more than 6,500 acres.
The Leander, just northwest of Austin, destroyed at least 11 homes and was thought to be the result of arson.
As of Sept. 13, the Insurance Council of Texas reported that insured losses from the fires would top $150 million in Bastrop County and possibly grow to more than $250 million statewide. Even before the Labor Day onslaught, fire losses in 2011 were “already the worst on record in Texas,” said ICT spokesman Mark Hanna.
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