While Tropical Storm Lee drenched Southeast Louisiana with up to 15 inches of rain over the weekend, the low pressure system whipped up strong northwesterly winds across Texas that are blamed for the rapid spread of numerous wildfires burning tens of thousands of acres.
Central Texas has been hard hit with fires raging in Bastrop, Hays, Travis and Williamson counties that have scorched some 40,000 acres and destroyed hundreds of homes. Many more hundreds of properties have been damaged or threatened by the blazes.
A wildfire near the northeast Texas town of Gladewater 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. That fire destroyed approximately 20 homes and burned an estimated 450 acres.
Insured losses from the long weekend fires will easily top the $100 million mark as residents survey their damage and insurance adjusters are called in. Mark Hanna, a spokesman for the Insurance Council of Texas says the property losses are setting records.
‘The fire losses for 2011 are already the worst on record in Texas,’ said Hanna. ‘These wild fires over the Labor Day weekend will only add to what has become a catastrophic year for Texas.’
As of the morning of Sept. 6, the Texas Fire Service reported that the Bastrop County Complex fire had burned around 30,000 acres and destroyed nearly 600 homes. The fire began in the Lost Pines area just northeast of the town Bastrop, located about 30 miles southeast of Austin. The fire remained uncontrolled Tuesday morning and continued to move rapidly to the south, with some eastward movement, the TFS said.
The Union Chapel fire in Bastrop County has burned 750 acres and 25 homes so far.
A wildfire just west of Austin destroyed more than two dozen homes in the Steiner Ranch area near Lake Travis on Sunday and Monday. The Steiner Ranch fire covered around 125 acres and was 40 percent contained as of Tuesday morning, the TFS said. Around 1,000 homes were evacuated over the weekend.
Another wildfire spread from western Travis County into Hays County claiming 67 homes and thousands of acres. The Pedernales Bend fire has burned 6,500 acres and is 40 percent contained. The fire continues to burn four miles southeast of Spicewood. The TFS reported the fire jumped the Pedernales River and is burning actively towards the south.
In the past seven days Texas Forest Service has responded to 181 fires that have burned more than 118,400 acres, including the new fires in Bastrop, Travis, Henderson, Limestone, Caldwell, Colorado, Montgomery and Grimes counties, among others.
TFS also continues to battle existing wildfires, including major fires in Palo Pinto, Briscoe, Coryell and Montague counties. Since the beginning of wildfire season, local and state firefighters have responded to more than 20,900 fires that have burned more than 3.6 million acres.
Gov. Rick Perry has reissued his disaster proclamation nine times this wildfire season; it was originally issued on Dec. 21, 2010.
Out of Texas’ 254 counties, 251 are reporting burn bans. Texas is suffering from an extended extreme drought; 2011 is the state’s driest year on record.
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