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By Margaret Toal
For the Record 

Little Cypress wildfire stopped before subdivision

 

Last updated 8/22/2023 at 7:41pm

Orange County came close Sunday for adding a wildfire to its growing list of recent disaster history.

Forty acres of dense woods burned for hours Sunday afternoon in the Little Cypress area west of Highway 87 North as Orange County reached its record temperature of 106 degrees. Little Cypress Fire Chief Matt Manshack said for the first couple of hours, firefighters feared the fire could spread to the Country Squire subdivision.

The Texas Forest Service was already on emergency standby because of the widespread drought and fire danger. Two airplanes dropping fire retardants, along with six bulldozers, came to the rescue. The fire was stopped.

"That's the only thing that saved us," Chief Manshack said Tuesday afternoon. "If not, we may have still been out there trying to contain it."

The chief said the forest service had firefighters from other states stationed coming to East Texas for standby as the fire danger reaches the highest level ever on record in this area. He met people from Florida, Wisconsin, and other states.

According to Chief Manshack, the fire appears to have started in an abandoned house at the end of Wilhite Road, which goes north off Little Cypress drive west of Highway 87 North. The house had been vacant since the Hurricane Harvey flooding in 2017.

He thinks the fire started from electrical wires. About two or three acres of woods had already burned by the time the fire was seen and reported, about 2 p.m.

And with a south wind from a tropical system miles away in the Gulf of Mexico, south winds were strong. "The wind was working against us," Chief Manshack said.

Fire departments from across Orange County, along with Deweyville, came to help. And, luckily, so did the forest service.

Another bit of good fortune came when the winds switched directions.

Chief Manshack gave advice for everyone right now: Do not burn anything.

Orange County is under a burn ban and the cities are even asking residents to curtail watering. Those cities include Orange, Bridge City, Pinehurst, and the water district that serves Vidor. The Orangefield Water Supply has also asked for water curtailments.

On Tuesday morning, residents in the Country Squire subdivsion awoke to find no water. Chief Manshack said apparently the privately-owned water company had a pump problem that was fixed later in the day.

The Orange County Airport on South Highway 87 a few miles away from the wildfire, recorded 106 degrees Sunday afternoon at the National Weather Service's station there. The NWS lists 105 as the recorded record high set in August 1962.

The county has had little measurable rain in weeks as the temperatures through the summer have been in the high 90s or, on numerous days, soared into past 100 degrees. The county, along with much of Texas and Southwest Louisiana, is at the highest level on monitors for drought and fire danger.

Trees and shrubbery across the county are turning brown and dropping leaves or needles. Chief Manshack said the dry trees made the Sunday wildfire spread quickly.

The tropical system that was in the Gulf Sunday developed into Tropical Storm Harold and went ashore in South Texas near the Brownsville area. None of its rain reached Orange County.

The National Weather Service Lake Charles bureau has posted the area as under "Red Flag Warning" for fire danger the past few days. The bureau predicts the intense heat and drought to continue into September.

Chief Manshack said the area needs about 10 inches of rain, but not at once. Maybe over a couple of days so it has time to soak into the dry ground.

More tropical systems are developing in the Atlantic basin as hurricane season moves to its peak time with the Gulf waters at high temperatures.

Orange County residents suffer from Post Traumatic Storm Disorder after Hurricane Rita hit in 2005 and another six tropical storm disasters have come here in the years since. And add that to measurable tornadoes that caused widespread damage in October 2021 and January 2023. The previous big tornado had hit in 1957.

So now, add wildfires to the list for Post Traumatic Weather Syndrome.

 

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