2011 Texas wildfires

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By October 16, 2011, about 3,853,475 acres (1,559,446 ha) of Texas had burned in a single fire season, equivalent to a square of about 77.5 by 77.5 miles (124.7 by 124.7 km).
Panoramic view of east-central Texas on September 6, 2011, highlighting numerous smoke plumes caused by wildfires burning across the state.

The 2011 Texas wildfires were a series of destructive wildfires in Texas, United States that occurred in the 2011 fire season. Statistics on the fires have been recorded since the current fire season began November 15, 2010.[1] During 2011 in Texas, around 31,453 fires had burned 4,000,000 acres or 16,190 square kilometres[2] (about double the previous record), 2,947 homes[2] (1,939 of which were destroyed over the Labor Day weekend), and over 2,700 other structures.[3] 47.3% of all acreage burned in the United States in 2011 was burned in Texas. The fires had been particularly severe due to the 2011 Southern US drought that covered the state, and was exacerbated by the unusual convergence of strong winds, unseasonably warm temperatures, and low humidity.[4]

Timber lost to drought and wildfire in 2011 could have produced $1.6 billion worth of products, resulting in a $3.4 billion economic impact in East Texas.[5]

Firefighters from more than forty-three states have been involved in the operation to combat the fires.[6] Two firefighters were killed. Eastland volunteer firefighter Gregory M. Simmons, 51, died April 15 while battling a 3,000-acre (12 km2) blaze Friday afternoon near Eastland. Cactus volunteer firefighter Elias Jaquez died April 20 from injuries sustained while fighting a blaze April 9 in Moore County.

On Sunday, September 4, 2011, a firestorm known as the Bastrop County Complex Fire engulfed Bastrop, Texas and by September 30 had destroyed 1,645 homes, burned 34,068 acres, and killed two people.[7] This fire is now regarded as the most catastrophic wildfire in Texas history.[8]

Texas Governor Rick Perry declared a State of Disaster starting on December 21, 2010, and renewed the proclamation every month. On April 16, 2011, Perry asked that President Barack Obama declare 252 of 254 Texas counties as disaster areas due to wildfires and wildfire danger;[9] the request was partially approved on July 1, 2011.[10] Critics of the governor's relief efforts point to his budget cuts to the Texas Forest Service which provides a first line of defense against wildfires.[11] Overall, wildfires in Texas during 2011 caused $510.927 million in damages and caused six fatalities, though an additional 62 people were injured.[12]

Background[edit]

The current Texas wildfire season began on November 15, 2010. A La Niña weather pattern that began in the summer of 2010 brought widespread drought to Texas. The percentage of exceptional drought in the state was the highest since the United States Drought Monitor began tracking the data in 2000.[13] A pattern of troughs from the Pacific Northwest brought strong winds over the plains. These weather conditions coupled with an above normal grass fuel loading created conditions for an active fire season.[14]

Notable fires[edit]

This is a list of known Texas wildfires occurring in 2011 that reached a size greater than 10,000 acres (40 km2) and/or caused significant destruction in residential areas.

Bastrop County Complex[edit]

View of Bastrop Complex fire captured by Terra satellite, September 5, 2011

Due to the ongoing exceptional drought conditions in most of Texas and the high winds brought to the state by Tropical Storm Lee, a series of wildfires flared up over Labor Day weekend and continued into the following week. The largest and most destructive was what is now known as the Bastrop County Complex. At approximately 3:00 p.m. (CDT) on September 4, two fires started north of Bastrop State Park in the communities of Circle D-KC Estates and Taihitan Village.[15][16] The likely cause of the blaze was sparks from electric power lines. 30 mph gusts of wind apparently toppled trees which tumbled into electrical lines at two locations, creating sparks that fell onto and ignited the dry grass and leaf litter below. The fire was exacerbated by the outflow of Tropical Storm Lee in conjunction with exceptional drought.[17] The fire quickly spread, engulfing 400 homes.[16] Multiple areas and locales were evacuated, including the Bastrop Animal Shelter, Bastrop State Park (more than half of which was burned), and other communities affected by the fire.[16][18] By 7:30 PM on September 5, 2011, the fire had burned about 25,000 acres and 500 homes. Winds began to calm the evening of September 5, but the fire still had no containment by the evening of September 6. By September 11, 1,554 homes had been destroyed. By October 1, the fire had reached 98% containment but had burned a total of 34,068 acres and 1,645 homes, making it the most destructive fire in Texas history.[19][20] At 8:00 PM on October 10, the fire was declared 100% contained.[21]

Bear Creek Fire[edit]

On September 4, the largest fire in East Texas History began. Scorching more than 43000 acres in Cass and Marion Counties. The fire took over 5 days to get under control involving numerous houses, and property. Multiple fire departments aided in the suppression efforts.

Colorado County Fire[edit]

On September 4, a fire started in Mentz, a rural community about 8 miles (13 km) northeast of Columbus, TX. The fire consumed 1800 acres, 11 homes, 40 outbuildings, and about 38 vehicles. The fire was contained a few days later.[22]

Cooper Mountain Ranch Fire[edit]

The fire in Kent, Stonewall, Fisher and Scurry Counties started on April 11 in Kent County. The fire spread to the other counties by April 14, and the town of Rotan was evacuated. On April 15, the wind shifted and pushed the fire toward Camp Springs in Scurry County, where the fire destroyed four homes. In total, 162,625 acres (658.12 km2) burned. This fire was caused by a spark from a welder.

Crockett Fires[edit]

The fire along US 287

Fires burned between Texas 7 and US 287 and County Road 4505 but later jumped across to CR 4529. The cause of this fire is unknown.[23] Another fire originally started in Anderson County but moved into Houston County near the Percilla Community. This fire was apparently caused by a downed power line.[24]

Deaton Cole Fire[edit]

The grass fire in Val Verde County, 30 miles (48 km) southwest of Ozona burned 175,000 acres (710 km2). The fire started on April 25 and the cause is unknown. The fire was controlled on May 10.

Delhi Fire[edit]

On September 4, a fire began near Jeddo, Texas in Caldwell County.[25] The next day, 6 homes were burned, including 1,000 acres (4.0 km2).

Dickens Complex[edit]

The Dickens Complex of fires in Dickens County consisted of the Edwards, Batch Camp, South Camp, and Afton fires. The fires were started by lightning strikes on May 7. The fires were contained on May 15 after burning 89,200 acres (361 km2).

Encino Fire[edit]

Smoke from the Encino Fire. Taken from the Texas Bank Sports Complex

The Encino Fire was located 15–20 miles (24–32 km) South of San Angelo. It started from a lightning strike during a thunderstorm. The fire consumed over 12,000 acres (49 km2) but destroyed no buildings.

Moore Fire (Gladewater)[edit]

a fire which was described by a longtime sheriff described as "the fastest moving fire he had ever seen", 1400 acres were burned, six houses destroyed, and many barns, outbuildings and pieces of equipment were lost. More tragically, 2 fatalities occurred in a mobile home, when a mother and her 18-month-old daughter were unable to escape the fast moving blaze. A house mate was injured when he escaped the blaze.[26] The fires moved so quickly due to the extremely dry conditions and the high winds, sometimes reaching 40 mph. The fire was later extinguished despite state firefighting resources being stretched to their limits.[27]

Griffith League Scout Ranch Fire[edit]

This fire started around 2 pm on October 4, 2011, at Oak Hill Cemetery Road, east of FM 2336, near the Griffith League Scout Ranch. It grew to 100 acres within two hours, 1,000 acres by nightfall. The outbreak was 25% contained by 8:30pm following the efforts of seven bulldozers and over 30 fire trucks with assistance from four aircraft that dumped 90,000 gallons of fire retardant onto the blaze. As of the morning of October 5, 50 homes had been evacuated.[28][29]

The 5,000-acre ranch had already lost approximately 1,000 acres to fire on September 4 and 5.[30] 350 acres had burned previously in a wildfire on August 21, 2010.[31]

Horseshoe Fire[edit]

On August 15, 2011, a wildfire broke out in central Leander, Texas. 189 homes in the surrounding area were immediately evacuated. The fire burned 30 acres in total and raced through a mobile-home neighborhood, destroying 15 homes and multiple vehicles.[32] Since it broke out on Horseshoe Drive, it is known as the Horseshoe Fire. This was the first of two destructive fires Leander experienced within three weeks, the second being the Moonglow Fire.

Iron Mountain Fire[edit]

The cause of the Iron Mountain Fire is unknown. The fire started on May 9 in Brewster County about 25 miles (40 km) east of Alpine eventually getting to within 10 miles (16 km) of the town. The fire burned over 89,400 acres (362 km2).

Moonglow Fire[edit]

On September 5, a wildfire broke out in the Mason Creek North subdivision (on Moonglow Drive) in Leander. Police declared the cause to be arson.[33] The fire destroyed 11 homes and damaged nine. The Moonglow fire was the second destructive wildfire Leander had experienced within three weeks, leading the Leander City Council to declare the city a disaster area shortly thereafter.

Pedernales Bend Fire[edit]

The Perdernales Bend Fire (also known as the Spicewood fire and Pedernales Fire One) was a fire that began on September 4 near Lake Travis.[34] Fanned by strong winds, the fire quickly grew, forcing residents in a 3 miles (4.8 km) radius of the fire to evacuate the area.[35] By the end of the day, the fire was estimated to have engulfed 400 acres (1.6 km2).[35] The next day, the fire already destroyed 20 homes and moved across the Pedernales River, continuing to burn in Hays County.[36] Most of the fire moved to the west of the river, where it destroyed an additional 65 structures and engulfed a total of 6,400 acres (26 km2).[37] The fire also cut power from 545 homes.[38] However, the growing fire slowed down as it was quickly contained, and on September 7, the fire was completely contained.[39] In total, 65 structures were destroyed, including 34 homes.[39] The fire burned 6,400 acres (26 km2) in total.

Possum Kingdom Complex[edit]

The Possum Kingdom Complex is a grouping of four wildfires that has consumed about 148,000 acres (600 km2) in Stephens, Young and Palo Pinto counties.[40] The complex consists of the Possum Kingdom West Fire (90,000 acres), Possum Kingdom East Fire 11,000 acres (45 km2), Hohertz Fire 40,000 acres (160 km2) and Jackson Ranch Fire 7,000 acres (28 km2).[41] The fire destroyed 166 homes and two churches. 600 more homes were threatened. Possum Kingdom State Park was closed on April 15. Ninety percent of the park was involved in the fire. 450 firefighters, three helitankers and three helicopters fought the fire along a 270-mile (430 km) fire line.[42]

On August 30, 2011, another outbreak of wildfires ravaged the Possum Kingdom Lake area, continuing well into September and destroying 39 homes by the time of containment.

Possum Kingdom Lake after the fire
Close-up of destroyed houses near Possum Kingdom Lake

Riley Road Fire[edit]

The Riley Road Fire started on September 5 in Grimes County and quickly spread South with the aid of high winds crossing over into Waller County. Within three days, the fire had scorched at least 12,500 acres and destroyed over 100 homes in Grimes, Montgomery and Waller counties. By September 10, the fire had been 100% contained and burned out with no further damage.[43]

Rockhouse Fire[edit]

The Rockhouse Fire began on April 9 west of Marfa. An electrical short in an abandoned building is believed to have started the fire. The fire burned more than 314,444 acres (1,272.51 km2) across Presidio and Jeff Davis counties.[44][45] The fire destroyed 24 homes and two businesses, and killed herds of cattle and 4 horses.[41] On April 10, Davis Mountains State Park was closed indefinitely due to the proximity of the fire. The park was used as a staging and camping area for firefighters for the duration of the fire. Texas State Highway 118 was also closed at several times during the fire.

Scenic Brook Fire[edit]

On the morning of April 17, Michael Weathers, a homeless man, started a campfire to cook his breakfast. He later left the campfire unattended, and the hot coals started a fire that spread into the Scenic Brook, Austin, Texas neighborhood in Austin.[46] Two C-130 airplanes dispersed fire retardant chemicals. Police and EMS helicopters equipped with buckets dropped water on the blaze. The fire covered about 100 acres (0.40 km2), destroyed 11 homes and damaged 10 others.[47] Weathers was arrested and charged with arson.

Schwartz Fire[edit]

The Schwartz Fire started May 7 and the cause is still under investigation. The fire began 20 miles (32 km) east of Marathon in Brewster County and burned about 84,000 acres (340 km2).

Swenson Fire[edit]

Sparks from a cutting torch started the Swenson Fire on April 6 near Aspermont and burned 122,500 acres (496 km2) in King, Knox, and Stonewall counties but caused minimal structure damage. Two unoccupied houses were lost.[48]

White Hat Fire[edit]

The White Hat Fire was started during the morning hours of June 20 about 8.5 mi (13.7 km) west of Blackwell, Texas in Nolan County.[49] Bulldozers, fire engines, and heavy tankers were sent to handle the fire.[50] However, towards the end of the day, no containment of the fire was reported, and it had already destroyed 7 houses and had enlarged to a size greater than 20,000 acres (81 km2).[50] Soon, residents east of the community of Maryneal would be evacuated.[50] The next day, the fire continued to spread, reaching a size of 65,000 acres (260 km2) and burning down an additional 5 structures. 100 firefighters were sent to battle the flames.[51] On June 22, progress was made and the fire was 50% contained.[52] Due to lower winds the next day, the fire decreased and became 70% contained, but it had already burned 70,900 acres (287 km2) of land and charred 35 homes.[53] The fire continued to decrease in size over the next days. On June 27, the fire was declared fully contained after burning 72,473 acres (293.29 km2).[49]

Wildcat Fire[edit]

Smoke from the Wildcat Fire seen from U.S. 67 near Miles, Texas.

The Wildcat Fire started on April 11 from a lightning strike in northern Tom Green County, and southern Coke County near Bronte. The fire burned and caused evacuations in Grape Creek, a small community north of San Angelo. By April 16, the winds shifted and moved the fire towards Robert Lee and forced evacuations along Farm to Market Road 2105 and Texas State Highway 208. On April 17, Bronte was under a recommended evacuation, but expired the same day. By April 18, the fire burned an estimated 100,000 acres (400 km2), with a 10% containment, then the same day a confirmed 30% containment was stated. On April 21, the fire was at 75% containment, after burning 159,308 acres (644.70 km2), and 95% of one ranch.

Volunteers respond[edit]

Nearly 35,000 Texans are members of the state’s 1,497 fully volunteer fire departments (VFDs) and 292 combined volunteer and paid departments. Those combination departments have about 6,200 paid firefighters, while the state’s 139 fully paid departments have more than 19,500 firefighters primarily focused on protecting the state’s municipalities, according to Texas Forest Service records. While some state and federal grant funding is available for fire departments, most fire protection is funded at a local level through taxation or donations.[54]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Texas Forest Service September 2, 2011.
  2. ^ a b "2011 Texas Wildfires: Common Denominators of Home Destruction", tamu.edu, December 2011, webpage (PDF): tamu-TW.
  3. ^ [1] September 20, 2011.
  4. ^ Tripp, Leslie; Gallman, Stephanie (April 19, 2011). "Arrest made in connection with Texas wildfire near Austin". CNN.com. Retrieved 2011-04-18. 
  5. ^ Texas Water Report: Going Deeper for the Solution Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts. Retrieved 2/10/14.
  6. ^ "Fighters From 43 States Battle Far-Flung Texas Wildfires". The New York Times. April 26, 2011. 
  7. ^ [2]
  8. ^ [3]
  9. ^ Perry's disaster request letter Apr 16, 2011.
  10. ^ "FEMA Disaster Summary for 2011 Texas Wildfires". September 9, 2011. 
  11. ^ "Texas Faces Massive Wildfires, Record Drought as Gov. Rick Perry Denies Existence of Global Warming". Democracy Now!. September 8, 2011. 
  12. ^ "Storm Events For Wildfires in Texas in 2011". Storm Events Database. National Climatic Data Center. Retrieved June 8, 2013. 
  13. ^ "Texas drought worst in recent history" ConnectAmarillo.com May 5, 2011.
  14. ^ Tom Spencer and Brad Smith. "Winter 2011 Wildland Fire Season Outlook for Texas" Texas Forest Service Sep 24, 2010.
  15. ^ "Bastrop County Complex". Texas Forest Service. Retrieved 5 September 2011. 
  16. ^ a b c "Bastrop fire still uncontained, and it may get worse". The Gonzales Cannon. Retrieved 5 September 2011. 
  17. ^ "Wind-driven fires kill woman, child in East Texas". The Austin American Statesman. Retrieved 5 September 2011. 
  18. ^ "160 animals saved from Bastrop shelter". Kxan36. Retrieved 5 September 2011. 
  19. ^ Brooks, Karen (2011-09-08). "Officials triple number of homes destroyed in Texas fire". Reuters. Retrieved 2011-09-08. 
  20. ^ Bastrop residents begin to return home; 1,400 houses destroyed (Austin American-Statesman, Sept. 9, 2011)
  21. ^ [4]
  22. ^ "Fire in Mentz, Texas". Retrieved 4 September 2011. 
  23. ^ "Fire blases on Highway 7 near Crockett". 
  24. ^ "Houston County Labor Day Holiday Marred by Wildfires". 
  25. ^ "Delhi". InciWeb. Retrieved 8 September 2011. 
  26. ^ Wind-driven fires kill woman, child in East Texas. WFAA.com. September 5, 2011. Retrieved September 7, 2011.
  27. ^ "Texas Wildfire spreads rapidly". 
  28. ^ "Another wildfire breaks out in Texas". 
  29. ^ "900 acre brush fire burns northeast of Bastrop". 
  30. ^ "Fire Notes: TxDOT concerned about damage to roads; fifth of Griffith League Scout camp blackened". 
  31. ^ "Bastrop County brush fire contained". 
  32. ^ "15 homes destroyed, 7 damaged in Leander. fire". 
  33. ^ "Leander police investigating possible arson in wildfire". 
  34. ^ "Wildfires destroy homes, force evacuations; Pedernales, Pflugerville, Cedar Park among areas affected". Austin American Statesman. Retrieved 7 September 2011. 
  35. ^ a b "Firefighters battle 400-acre blaze north of Dripping Springs". San Marcos Local News. 5 September 2011. Retrieved 30 December 2011. 
  36. ^ "Pedernales Fire One destroys estimated 20 homes". TWEAN News Channel of Austin. Retrieved 7 September 2011. 
  37. ^ "For Pedernales Bend residents, a mix of good and very bad". Austin American Statesman. Retrieved 7 September 2011. 
  38. ^ "Fire crews working fire in Pedernales Bend area". KENS 5-TV, Inc. Retrieved 7 September 2011. 
  39. ^ a b "Pedernales fire 100 percent contained, residents return home". KVUE News. Retrieved 7 September 2011. 
  40. ^ "Texas wildfires destroy a million acres" BBC News. April 20, 2011.
  41. ^ a b "Texas Forest Service Wildfire Update: Thursday Morning" KTXS. April 21, 2011
  42. ^ Mike Roark "Possum Kingdom wildfire still just 25 percent contained" Repoternews. April 23, 2011.
  43. ^ "Texas Forest Service: Riley Road Fire 100-percent contained". 
  44. ^ http://txforestservice.tamu.edu/main/popup.aspx?id=3818
  45. ^ http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=5280917
  46. ^ Noelle Newton "Homeless man arrested for arson, homeless camp safety questioned" Kvue.com. April 18, 2011.
  47. ^ Hilary Hylton "Austin Anxiety: Coping with the Texas Wildfires" Time. April 21, 2011.
  48. ^ Greg Kendall-Ball "Swenson Fire now 80% contained" Your Abilene Online. Apr 11, 2011.
  49. ^ a b "White Hat". InciWeb. Retrieved 28 June 2011. 
  50. ^ a b c "Fast-moving fire endangers Blackwell". Abilene Reporter-News. Retrieved 28 June 2011. 
  51. ^ "White Hat Fire claims 12 structures". Abilene Reporter-News. Retrieved 28 June 2011. 
  52. ^ "Trent blaze burns 500 acres; progress made on Maryneal fire". Abilene Reporter-News. Retrieved 28 June 2011. 
  53. ^ "White Hat Fire In Nolan County Grows To 70,900 Acres". KTXS 12 (News 12 Abilene). Retrieved 28 June 2011. 
  54. ^ Texans on the Fireline Fiscal Notes. Retrieved 2/11/14.

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