10 Sep 2011
Incident commanders clarify containment figures
Bastrop County Judge Ronnie McDonald reminded local citizens today that all federal, state and local government agencies, as well as other service providers, are working very hard, often at great personal sacrifice, to help displaced families and allow residents to return to their home sites as quickly and safely as possible. However, he expressed concern over public perception that little progress has been made. In fact, the forward progress of the fire has been stopped.
Few wildfires are ever actually “put out.” In most cases, firefighters work to build containment lines around the fire and strengthen those lines to make them secure. The focus is to keep the fire from escaping containment. Sometimes the lines are made by one or more bulldozers. Sometimes a road, river or other secure, defensible barrier is used, but, the goal is always to keep the fire from escaping and growing larger. In most cases, wildfire burning within containment lines has little to no impact on local communities, so the fire is considered to be “contained” based on the percentage of the perimeter that has secure lines.
In the case of the Bastrop Fire, there are hundreds, even thousands, of homes within the perimeter lines of the fire. Firefighters are not simply attempting to keep the fire within the containment lines. An equally important goal is to protect those homes that have survived the fire and are located within the fire perimeter. Because they are located in close proximity to active fire and because of the historic dry conditions and abundance of unburned fuel, these homes are still seriously at risk.
Tony Wilder, Incident Commander for the Southern Area Red Team, explained, “Fighting the Bastrop Fire is extremely complicated. Because there are many homes at risk within the perimeter of the fire, we have to divide our attention between securing the perimeter and protecting homes that are still at risk. This takes a lot of time and work. There has been much progress made, as evidenced by the areas that have been opened for reentry. On this fire, progress must be recognized as more than ‘percent contained’. We have to look at all the areas that have been made safe by firefighters, as well as containment. We simply haven’t had a measure for expressing how much progress we’ve made.”
Citizens are reminded there will be hazards in local communities as a result of the Bastrop Fire for weeks, even months. In many cases, the root systems of trees are compromised, and the trees could blow over in even a light wind. As the trees die, needles leaves and branches will fall to the ground, creating a new fuel base. Fire that has smoldered unseen can ignite bringing fire back into the area and threatening homes again.
“Everyone is working together to ensure the safety of the citizens of Bastrop County. Help us by being patient and trusting that we will provide you information as soon as we have it,” added Judge McDonald. “We will get through this.”
Current information will be available by the front entrance of the Bastrop Convention Center, on bulletin boards at the Bastrop Walmart, Home Depot ,Lowe’s- and the official evacuation shelters.
Texas Forest Service