Bastrop News

Hidden Pines Fire Simmers Down

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By Terry Hagerty – Writer/Photographer

On Saturday morning Lisa Taylor was hosing down tall trees within 20 yards of the Smithville-area home of her father, cattle rancher John Randolph. She and relatives were on guard against any potential flare-ups from the Hidden Pines Fire which destroyed 45 homes while burning through 4,500 acres after igniting on Tuesday.

Motioning to the nearby woods Taylor said, “If this part goes up in flames there’s a good chance we lose the house because it’s dry, dry, dry here. We’ve already had two flare-ups.” By late Saturday there were no apparent reports of the fire blowing up again in a major way – as it had on Wednesday. A firefighter with the Heart of the Pines Volunteer Fire Department confirmed as much, telling one couple who had stopped by the station that firefighters were “putting out a bunch of little fires today.”

Officials said the fire was 40% contained and that they would be “opening zones” to let property owners back in to. Bastrop County Judge Paul Pape petitioned the public “to be patient”, adding – “We’re a long ways from being finished.” (The Hidden Pines Fire is the 3rd major fire to hit the Bastrop/Smithville area in seven years: The Wilderness Ridge Fire in 2009; the Bastrop County Complex Fire in 2011 – the largest wildfire in Texas history; and the Hidden Pines Fire.)

For residents and firefighters caution was still the word of the day as winds were gusting up to 13 mph on Saturday, according to weather reports – enough to potentially kick up red-hot embers that could be still seen within the base of some fallen trees.  “What’s smoldering now are tree stumps,” Randolph said. He and workers were taking down still-smoldering trees Friday afternoon while Blackhawk helicopters filled up water pods at his cattle ponds. Orange-colored fire retardant covered large portions of the exterior of Randolph’s home from air drops from planes, including a DC-10 that made several passes over the area Friday. There was a strong smell of smoke inside his home. “The smoke was so thick in here that we couldn’t see the door, couldn’t see five feet in front of us,” Randolph said.

Saturday’s near calm was in stark contrast to Wednesday when one firefighter had communicated over a radio, “There is nothing we can do with this.” The night before, a firefighter spotlighted what was causing the fire to increase in size, when coupled with persistent winds: “We got embers bowing really good now.” Randolph had high praise for the efforts of firefighters: “They were keeping us from burning,” he said.

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