There is an urgent need of a federal disaster declaration to help respond to wildfires throughout the state, said David Dewhurst on Friday, after almost a week of major wildfire in Bastrop Texas.
The major wildfire blackened most of Bastrop Texas (AP)
David Dewhurst said the last 10 months since fire season began in November had been the driest in the state since 1895.
“We need help yesterday,” he said.
Rick Perry left Texas on Wedneday to attend a television debate and now he is raising funds in California. David Dewhurst is Texas Lt. Governor and since Perry left he is acting governor. He said there had been no response to the statewide disaster declaration request, although White House said Obama administration had approved seven federal grants. A disaster declaration gives Texas access to heavy equipment, personnel, supplies and other support needed after almost 300 days of wildfires, thus Dewhurst has signed another request. Obama administration has approved a limited disaster declaration for fires in April and May, but Texas has huge problems since January, Dewhurst said.
However, Federal Emergency Management Agency were getting disaster declarations for specific counties, including Bastrop Texas.
Around 1,400 homes have been burnt to the ground in the last week. Important wildfires are in Travis, Grimes, Cass, Montgomery and Waller counties, Texas Forest Service said.
Some residents were allowed to return to their home places to evaluate the damages, but others are getting frustrated because they are still not permitted to go to survey their property. County Judge Ronnie McDonald said main priority was getting people secure.
Bastrop Texas: a gas leak burns in a ruined house (Reuters)
Texas Task Force 1 is searching the area for victims, until now the deaths toll in Bastrop Texas is two.
One of the dead people was identified as Michael Troy Farr, 48, who was found Tuesday at his home on Hudson Drive near Smithville. He was a master electrician in Austin and since 2003.
The wildfires have been very uncommon this year due to drought, hottest summer, Tropical Storm Lee, the massive growth in Texas’ population (doubled since 1970), urbanization, and cultivation of non-native plants which burn more easily.
The Bastrop Texas wildfire was over 30 percent contained Friday.
Two persons died on Tuesday in the massive wildfire that has covered Bastrop Texas since Monday.
Bastrop Texas: The ruins of a house destroyed by wildfire (Reuters)
They were not public safety responders said officials without any further details. The death toll from Labor Day weekend wildfires across Texas raises to four with these two deaths in the Bastrop County Complex. On Monday a 20-year-old mother and her 18-month-old daughter, caught by flames in a mobile home, died in Gregg County (northeast Texas).
This is the most withering wildfire in Texas in over ten years. The Bastrop County Complex fire destroyed almost 600 homes and led to evacuation of 5,000 in Bastrop County alone.
More than ten other fires sweeped on Tuesday, burning six homes in Caldwell County (near Bastrop County), twelve homes in Grimes County (40 miles northwest of Houston). In Cass County a 7,000-acre fire burned in heavy timberland and in one neighborhood in Bastrop flames attacked houses built among oaks, pines and cedar trees.
The wildfire in Leander destroyed over ten homes and caused the evacuations of 500 residents and $1.4 million in damage. The fire is investigating as arson, Police were searching for three teens connected to that.
Officials of Federal Emergency Management Agency came to Bastrop Texas and began to assess the needs of the victims and damages.
Bastrop Texas: burnt vehicle
“It is certainly a remarkable fire in terms of evacuations and the number of homes that have burned,” said Ken Frederick, of National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho.
Texas Task Force 1, a wide-area search team sent to New York after the September 11, 2001, attacks and to New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, was deployed by Governor on Tuesday evening.
“Pretty powerful visuals of individuals who lost everything. The magnitude of these losses are pretty stunning.” Said Rick Perry, Texas Governor.
The available bulldozers and other heavy equipment were kept at the Army’s Fort Hood, around 75 miles from Bastrop, Perry complained. He also asked for federal assistance and in order to help Texas Obama administration approved seven federal grants, said Jay Carney, White House spokesman.
Over 1,000 firefighters (including crews from California and Oregon), five heavy tanker planes, and three aircrafts have struggled to contain the monstrous blaze.
On Tuesday, the winds (moved by Tropical Storm Lee) became weaker and that helped to wildfire containment. There are still flames across Bastrop Texas, and the fire is far from being extinguished.
Over sixty fires have ignited since Sunday afternoon and one of them has reached Bastrop Texas on Monday causing major damages.
Bastrop Texas major wildfire: Flames over a road near Bastrop State Park (Reuters)
The Bastrop County Complex Fire has destroyed more than 25,000 acres of forest (two-thirds of the 6,000-acre Bastrop State Park) and has burnt almost 500 houses.
Tropical Storm Lee generating powerful winds and drought conditions (Texas has endured its worst drought since the 1950s) has made the fire to travel fast, consuming pine and cedar trees.
The Bastrop County is around 30 miles east from Austin and has around 70,000 residents. The speed of fire was very uncommon and led to evacuation of at least 5,000 persons, 400 people were taken to emergency shelters. School and school-related activities were canceled for Tuesday and the Red Cross has opened several shelters to house evacuees.
Perry, the Texas Governor, who was out of the state on Sunday, viewed the fire from the air. “This is as mean looking as I’ve ever seen, particularly because it was so close to the city.” He said.
Rick Perry said he planned to immediately request federal disaster relief for Texas fire victims. Since December, wildfires in Texas have claimed 3.5 million acres, and have destroyed more than 1,000 homes, he said.
He said it was too early to say whether he would attend Wednesday’s GOP debate in California.
Ground and air forces were mobilized to fight the large wildfire of Bastrop Texas.
Over 250 firefighters has working on the Bastrop fire, that stretches for 16 miles. Minimum 40 Texas Forest Service aircraft were involved in the firefighting Monday along with a half-dozen Texas military aircraft. Heavy air tankers, brought in from as far away as South Dakota, have been dumping tons of water on fires all day long, The Texas Forest Service said. The crews contained the main fire north of the Colorado River, but the major Bastrop Texas wildfire was still not contained.
Campfires, burning of debris, Labor Day barbecues were prohibited in all but three of the 254 counties in Texas.