Bastrop News

Ghosts of 2011 Complex fire, Hidden Pines Fire

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Terry Hagerty photos (18) Terry Hagerty photos (16) Terry Hagerty photos (15) Terry Hagerty photos (14) Terry Hagerty photos (13) Terry Hagerty photos (12) Terry Hagerty photos (11) Terry Hagerty photos (10) Terry Hagerty photos (9) Terry Hagerty photos (8) Terry Hagerty photos (6)Photos by Terry Hagerty Photography

By Terry Hagerty – Writer/photographer

The desperation, but also determination, was evident in the voices of firefighters as they fought a running battle through Wednesday afternoon and into the evening, trying to contain the Hidden Pines Fire near Smithville.

“We may be too late – it’s too big,” one firefighter could be heard over a radio scanner at 4:25 p.m., describing one location where they were trying to contain the blaze. A voice that sounded much like a fire chief’s, replied “Get out!” The first firefighter was describing the huge blaze that had nearly quadrupled in 24 hours – and went from 50 percent contained on Tuesday to only 10 percent contained by Wednesday afternoon, according to fire officials. The fire had burned through 1,500 acres at mid-afternoon Wednesday. Ominous dark smoke blotted out a large swath of an otherwise blue-sky day.

Around 5:30 p.m., as the blaze mushroomed and moved in a westerly direction across Kellar and Cottle Town roads, one group of firefighters was instructed to “let it burn” – referring to grass and “move in to try and save…homes and infrastructure.” One firefighter had communicated there were “four structures we can’t ‘defend’ on Agget” – referring to Agget Road off of Park Road 1C which connects Buescher and Bastrop State Parks. Bastrop County Judge Paul Pape reported that nine homes had been lost along Old Antioch Road. It was possible that additional homes would be reported destroyed by Thursday morning’s accounting.

The fire had sprung loose Wednesday in persistent winds. Planes made multiple low-level runs dropping fire retardant on the forward edges of the blaze but at times it didn’t seem to significantly slow the flames, at least as they approached Kellar and Cottle Town roads.

At 7:04 p.m. a radio report said there was “A lot of civilian traffic” and that “We need to get them out.” The dangers included many motorists pulling over on the shoulder of Hwy. 71 between Smithville and Bastrop to take photos. While some cars driving on through slowed down in a courteous measure, other vehicles came blasting through at a high rate of speed with no apparent regard for the crowded highway.

At 7:50 p.m. it was evident that firefighters were giving their best efforts in battling the fire. One firefighter said over the radio, “We got people (firefighters) dropping out left and right – we need to really see about getting other people in here. We got guys that have been out here many, many hours – Can you get us some assistance out here? We have structures that are very savable, but we need backup out here!” Smithville Fire Chief James Elam, the incident commander for the fire Wednesday, responded over a radio: “Go ahead and pull out” – instructing that firefighters be given a break and sent to rehab’ – a location where firefighters get a rest and a food/drink break. At 8:20 p.m., one firefighter said over the radio: “Give me an update on the wind and tell me something good!”

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