Sparks from electric power lines likely started the blaze that became the most destructive wildfire in Texas history, fire officials said. The Sept. 4 blaze began near Bastrop about 25 miles east of Austin, destroying more than 1,500 homes and killing two people.
The Austin American-Statesman reported that the massive blaze started as two fires ignited about five miles apart around the same time. One fire began when winds toppled a dead pine tree onto power lines, showering the dry vegetation below with sparks. The other fire ignited when fallen tree branches became tangled with power lines, showering dry grass and branches with sparks.
Northerly winds gusted at up to 31 mph Sept. 4 at the National Weather Service office in Austin, according to the report. The relative humidity was 22 percent, and temperatures reached 99 degrees.
The findings echo those of the Bluebonnet Electric Cooperative, the electricity provider for the area, Bluebonnet chief executive Mark Rose said.
“We, like everyone else, have had investigators in the field attempting to determine the origin and cause of the fires,” he told the American-Statesman. “Our investigation also shows that trees blew over and fell into the power lines.”
The Texas Forest Service (TFS) continues investigating what caused another 700-acre blaze in Bastrop County near the main fire, officials said.
The Bastrop County wildfires forced thousands of residents to flee their homes, burned out of control for days and ultimately blackened more than 50 square miles. The fires were 95 percent contained as of late September, but officials urged residents to clear pine needles and other debris away from their homes to avoid re-igniting some “hot spots.”
Texas has been in the midst of one of its worst wildfire outbreaks in state history. A perilous mix of hot temperatures, strong winds and the ongoing historic drought spawned the Bastrop County fires, the largest of the nearly 190 wildfires the TFS said erupted in early September.
The Insurance Council of Texas estimated that losses from the Bastrop fire will reach $250 million. Insurers have reported around 1,500 claims. Approximately 10 percent of affected homeowners are uninsured, the ICT said.
Since mid-November when the Texas wildfire season began, blazes have scorched about 5,700 square miles.
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