Sunday wildfire burns 417 acres, but no buildings lost
Last updated 9/12/2023 at 7:11pm
A Sunday afternoon wildfire that started in a wooded area off Gist Road quickly spread through the dry and dying leaves leading to homes being evacuated. No lives or buildings were lost.
By late Tuesday afternoon, the Texas Forest Service and Orange County Emergency Management reported the fire had burned 417 acres and was 75 percent contained. Jets and helicopters were used to dump water or fire retardants.
Still, earlier on Tuesday, a resident living across the street from where the wildfire had burned was found burning trash. The county has been under a burn ban for weeks as a record-high temperatures and a long drought have dried every bit of vegetation, leading to brown leaves on many trees.
County Emergency Management Director Joel Ardoin said sheriff's deputies are issuing tickets for violating the burn ban that can have a $500 fine. He said even if rain comes later this week, it will not leave enough to stop the drought enough to lift the burn ban.
The cause of Sunday afternoon's fire has not been determined, but is being investigated. It came after a Friday afternoon thunderstorm across the county brought up to an inch of rain in some spots.
"It's a tinderbox ready to go up," County Judge John Gothia said about the county. "It will take more than an afternoon shower to stop this."
At this time, the cause of Sunday's fire is unknown. The fire was reported about 1:40 p.m. on Gist Road on the Jasper County side, but it soon spread into Orange County. It is now being referred to as the FM 2802, or Texla Road fire.
People living Blankenship Road, Corrigan Road, Dixie Drive, Rebel Road, Shenandoah Drive, Shiloh Readge Road, Eaves Road, Cole Road, and east of FM 105 from Corrigan Drive to Texla Road were evacuated. They were allowed back early Monday morning.
Despite the scare and damage, local officials praised firefighters, the Orange County Sheriff's Office, and especially the Texas Forest Service for coming so quickly and working so hard. Deputies went door-to-door at residences telling people they should leave.
Sheriff's Captain Joey Jacobs used the office's drones to take aerial photographs and videos so fire crews could get to the worst spots and see where the fire was spreading. "The technology our sheriff's office has is phenomenal. That's the reason other counties are calling them up all the time," said Precinct 4 Commissioner Robert Viator.
Ardoin showed some of Jacobs' drone films to Commissioners Court. One video had infrared heat imaging added. Ardoin showed the hottest places and how in an instant the fire jumped across a roadway.
Viator also praised local citizens. He said people pulled up with livestock trailers to help transport horses and cattle that needed to be removed from the path of the fire.
"It was very impressive to see the team (of first responders) jump into action," County Judge Gothia said.
That team included the Texas Forest Service, which has gathered standby crews and equipment from other parts of the state and across the country to be in this area because of the extreme fire dangers.
Gothia said 737 jets flew at tree-top level to drop fire retardants on lines of trees. He said 10 to 12 planes and a couple of helicopters were called in to help fight the spreading blaze. Forest Service bulldozers also came to clear areas and build up fire breaks.
Gothia said local crews worked hard, but the fire might not be under control without the Forest Service.
In August with the 40-acre Little Cypress wildfire, which came close to a subdivision, the Forest Service also sent equipment and crews. Little Cypress Fire Chief Matt Manshack also praised the service for helping stop the fire.
The 75 percent containment means the fire is not spreading that far. Crews remain at the acreage putting out hotspots. Ardoin said people may continue to smell the smoke for the next few days.
Though a cool front broke the 100 degree temperatures, Orange County has continued to sizzle under 90-plus degree sunshiny days. The county airport gauges had 36 days of 100-degree or hotter weather during the months of June, July, and August, through August 8.
Rain is in the forecast later this week, but the scattered showers or thunderstorms won't end the drought. Commissioner Viator said he heard the area was 17 inches below average rainfall for this time off the year.