UPDATE WEDNESDAY, SEPTEMBER 7, 2011, 10:30 A.M. CDT (15:30 UTC). Fire crews continue to make progress this morning in containing several fires burning throughout Central Texas since Sunday, according to the Austin American-Statesman, which adds that thousands of residents remain evacuated in the Central Texas area. Statesman.com has good fire coverage and some heart-rending photos.
Wind speeds in Central Texas have decreased noticeably throughout this week. They’re expected to remain low today, which should help keep fires from spreading as quickly as they were earlier in the week. However, Texas is still dry, with no rain, and the dry conditions and low humidity mean many areas are still at risk.
In Austin this morning, we can see and smell smoke hanging in the air, from fires on all sides of us. With temperatures lower today than in months, and no wind, smoke from the fires has lowered to the ground, leading to fog-like conditions and poor visibility. Those with respiratory problems have been alerted to avoid outdoor activity.
The largest of the Texas fires this week – the Bastrop fire which started 30 miles east of Austin, Texas – is said to be 30 percent contained this morning, according to the Austin American-Statesman, quoting a Texas Forest Service official from earlier today. The fire has burned about 34,000 acres east of Austin and destroyed 550 homes as of last night, the official said.
Throughout the state, other wildfires continue to burn. We have an unconfirmed but widely used number of over 1,000 homes destroyed throughout the state. The image above is from the Texas Forest Service Fire Activity page, from earlier today.
We’ll have another update later today.
UPDATE TUESDAY, SEPTEMBER 6, 2011. Firefighters are still battling blazes in Texas. The fire that is spreading in and around Bastrop is still the largest of the Texas fires at this time. The Bastrop fire – which is raging 30 miles east of Austin – has burned at least 600 homes and blackened 30,000 acres in the last 48 hours. Roughly 35 other fires are still actively burning across Texas. Officials say a total of more than 1,000 homes have been destroyed and over 115,000 acres have burned in Texas in the past seven days.
MONDAY, SEPTEMBER 5, 2011. The Texas Forest Service is reporting 63 new wildfires across the state of Texas since yesterday for a total of 32,000 burned acres. The largest of the fires is burning in the central part of the state about 30 miles southeast of Austin – in and around the town of Bastrop. The Bastrop fire is believed to have destroyed 476 homes already, and it has been advancing unchecked all day today (September 5, 2011) along a 16-mile front.
From Austin, a wall of smoke can be seen to span our eastern horizon. It started yesterday as a single black outpouring of smoke to the east and now extends for many miles, as this image from NASA’s GOES satellite shows.
According to the Texas Forest Service and Bastrop County officials, no part of the 25,000-acre Bastrop fire is contained. And another fire has started in the southwestern corner of Bastrop County. Both fires were growing and moving as of late afternoon today, September 5, 2011.
Tropical Storm Lee, which hit the Gulf of Mexico coastline hundreds of miles to the east of Texas this past weekend, contributed to the strong winds which have enabled the fires to spread rapidly.
Texas has been stricken by its worst drought in decades. Virtually all of the state is considered to be in “extreme” drought at this time, with no rain in sight. It has been very dry and exceedingly hot. As of August 31, 2011, Central Texas – where the largest fire is raging – has had 76 days at or above 100°. Temperatures were cooler today in Central Texas, however, with a high of only 90°.
Throughout the summer of 2011, burn bans have been in place throughout Texas. At this time, all but three of the 254 counties in Texas are under outdoor burn bans.
This video is from yesterday (September 4), when the Bastrop fire was just beginning …
When hurricane season began to rev up in early August, many Texans hoped it would bring a reprieve to the heat and dryness. It has not. Even last week – when Tropical Storm Lee was about to pour water on the Gulf Coast states further east – many in Texas hoped Lee would push some rain our way. But by Sunday morning, it was clear we got wind instead, and by Sunday afternoon, the Bastrop fire could be seen raging to the east of Austin.
And the Bastrop fire is just the biggest of the 63 fires that started in Texas since yesterday. This map will give you a better idea.
Deborah Byrd created the EarthSky radio series in 1991 and founded EarthSky.org in 1994. Today, she serves as Editor-in-Chief of this website. She has won a galaxy of awards from the broadcasting and science communities, including having an asteroid named 3505 Byrd in her honor. A science communicator and educator since 1976, Byrd believes in science as a force for good in the world and a vital tool for the 21st century. "Being an EarthSky editor is like hosting a big global party for cool nature-lovers," she says.