High winds caused by Tropical Depression Lee have helped fuel the wildfires spreading through parts of East and Central Texas, and certain areas were under “red flag” warnings for critical fire conditions, according to the National Weather Service.
The fast-growing wildfire scorched about 300 houses near Austin, forcing people in hundreds of homes to evacuate.
Bastrop County, just east of Austin, Texas, lost 14,000 acres to the blaze, which has grown an estimated 16 miles long and threatens about 700 more houses, MSNBC reported.
“It’s catastrophic. It’s a major natural disaster,” Texas Forest Service Fire Chief Mark Stanford wrote on the Austin American-Statesman website.
State Highways 71 and 21 in Bastrop Country have been closed and aerial units show at least 300 homes were destroyed or damaged by the wildfire.
South, Central and East Texas have been under “red flag” warnings until late Sunday night for critical fire conditions – no injuries have been reported, according to the National Weather Service.
“It was like a storm coming through. You could smell the earth burning,” said Julian Ochoa, 23, who was evacuated from a Bastrop subdivision Sunday afternoon, CNN reported.
Ochoa added, “All of Bastrop is a giant smoke cloud.”
The Austin Fire Department asked statesman.com to alert any available firefighters in the area “to be ready for duty.”
“AFD is looking for 25 firefighters to call back in for possible activation,” spokeswoman Michelle DeCrane said. “Firefighters who are available to come in to work should call 978-1187 as soon as possible. We will be taking contact information and determining exactly how many folks we need to activate immediately vs. later.”
For those evacuated in Bastrop County, several shelters are available, including: Smithville First Baptist Church, Bastrop Church of Christ, Bastrop Middle School, and Smithville Recreation Center.
This is the worst fire season the Lone Star state has seen to date. The drought has caused over $5 billion in economic losses and 3.5 million acres have been scorched.