Bastrop News

Surviving the Hidden Pines Fire

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Bill Colson knew he was fortunate in not losing his home in the Hidden Pines Fire – because there were too many others who had suffered total loss. “You don’t want to feel too happy” that your home survived, Colson said on Tuesday as he stood next to a ditch that firefighters had bulldozed around his home near Cottle Town Road. “I’m incredibly lucky…this was a wild ride,” he added.

When a neighbor wandered by to ask Colson how his pets had fared, he called out, “Three cats and a horse – they’re good.” Colson praised the hard work of the firefighters. He had served with the Heart of the Pines (HOP) Volunteer Fire Department for several years. In fact, it was HOP firefighters who had dug the fire line around his home deep in the woods.

Hidden Pines Fire (63)

Photo by Terry Hagerty

It had been one week since the start of the fire on Oct. 13. Officials said they believe a piece of dragged farming equipment likely started the fire in a dry field north of Smithville. The fire burned approximately 4,600 acres while destroying 64 “residential structures” – the terminology used by Bastrop County Judge Paul Pape, because while some of the structures were homes others were smaller cabin-like structures. On Thursday Pape emphasized that 113 residences were saved by firefighters. “Without those firefighters there would have been a lot more losses,” Pape said.

Hidden Pines Fire (12)

Photo by Terry Hagerty

Pape led officials in a news conference on Tuesday at a ‘rehab center’ for firefighters and other first responders near the Kellar Road/Hwy. 71 intersection west of Smithville. The update included the announcement of letting affected residents (and escorted media) into the area of the “fire footprint” for the first time. However, some residents concerned about their homes and news photographers had already made their own way around roadblocks and into the fire zone during previous days, including at the height of the fire on Tuesday (Oct. 13) and Wednesday (Oct. 14).

Hidden Pines Fire (79)

Photo by Terry Hagerty

With still smoldering tree trunks and hot fire holes as well as the potential for falling trees and branches, Sheriff Terry Pickering cautioned residents and the media, “This is still pretty much a dangerous situation – we don’t want to open it up and let everybody in there” right now. Indeed, what could be seen in the aftermath of the fire were vast panoramas of grey and black from large areas of woods that were now ash, together with homes and vehicles that had been burned to a crisp. Some fire holes left from downed trees still had red embers within, and smoke curling out. In many areas two to three inches of ash covered the ground, so that a photographer venturing forth had to stoop down and brush the ash aside with fingers, just to make sure it was safe to walk. At one point during the tour a large tree crashed down about 30 yards away. Officials let residents know that any burned trees with orange tape around them would be eventually cut down. Pape said officials were “not posting yet” the
name of additional homeowners who had lost their homes to the blaze, adding there “will be a time for an official document” that will be released/posted. As for the financial damage from the fire, Pape said it likely “will be in the hundreds of millions of dollars.”

Hidden Pines Fire (8)

Photo by Terry Hagerty

Hidden Pines Fire (16)

Photo by Terry Hagerty

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