A wildfire that started Tuesday grew to hundreds of acres in Bastrop State Park and prompted evacuations in the area.
Roads were closed as local fire departments responded to the blaze, which officials called the Rolling Pines Fire. The Texas A&M Forest Service assisted those crews.
The fire began after the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department conducted a prescribed burn in the park Tuesday morning. As of Wednesday evening, the fire has burned about 783 acres. Officials say it is at 58% containment. (By comparison, Austin's Zilker Park is 351 acres.)
No one has been reported injured and officials said no homes have been damaged.
Here's what we know about why a prescribed burn was done, how it went out of control and what the impact has been on Bastrop County residents thus far:
Texas Parks and Wildlife: Prescribed burns must meet 'specific prescription of environmental factors'
The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department said a large crew of trained and certified wildland firefighters were on the ground during Tuesday's prescribed burn near the city of Bastrop.
In response to criticism to the burn on Facebook, the agency said there were three “burn boss(es) with a large culmination of prescribed fire experience in our Lost Pines ecosystem and tens of years of research, education and training."
“Each unit has specific prescription of environmental factors that need to be met before we can go ahead with a prescribed fire. The moisture in the vegetation, relative humidity and wind speed throughout today are within the prescription needs that we have for the unit today,” Parks and Wildlife Department officials said in a comment.
A burn ban was not in place in Bastrop County on Tuesday.
Prescribed burns can 'help prevent wildfire'
During a Tuesday evening press conference, Bastrop County Judge Paul Pape said 150 acres were scheduled to be burned as part of the exercise. He stressed that prescribed burns can work as "a tool to help prevent wildfire," noting that a lack of prescribed burns in the park can allow the forest to grow "like a jungle," and create conditions that contributed to the Bastrop Complex Fire more than a decade ago.
That 2011 wildfire was one of the most destructive in the state history, reaching more than 34,000 acres. It destroyed 1,600 homes, caused hundreds of millions of dollars in damage and killed two people.
Officials said at the Tuesday press conference that current conditions are not as severe as they were then.
"Based on everything they knew this morning, it was an appropriate day to burn," Pape said. "Sometimes things happen that we just don't anticipate. I'm not going to be critical of the efforts to protect our citizens form wildfire by using prescribed fire. I think it's a great tool to keep those kinds of things from happening."
Do we know the cause of Bastrop fire?
During Tuesday's press conference, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department Executive Director Carter Smith said specialists working on the prescribed burn noted spotting on its boundaries. He said it's likely embers from the prescribed burn contributed to the fire, but stressed that its too early to declare an official cause.
Pape told Bastrop Advertiser Editor Andy Sevilla that it appears the prescribed burn broke lines and ignited the wildfire, citing wind speed as a factor.
“The winds were just stronger than anyone anticipated," said Pape, who is the county's top executive officer — a job that has no judicial function.
Bastrop fire map shows evacuation area
At least 250 families were asked to evacuate due to the fire. About 100 homes were threatened by the fire, officials said Tuesday, but none have been damaged.
This map shows the location of the fire and the evacuated areas as of Tuesday evening:
CLOSER LOOK: The orange map shows the approximate #RollingPinesFire location. The blue map shows the evacuated areas.
Maps courtesy of #Bastrop County Office of Emergency Management. pic.twitter.com/T2htFeDV0D
— Andy Sevilla (@MrAndySevilla) January 18, 2022
Texas 21 East was closed for a roughly 4-mile stretch between South Shore Road and FM 1441, but on Wednesday reopened.
Those who evacuated that live north of Texas 21 were told they could return to their homes Wednesday afternoon, according to Judge Pape. Those who live south of the highway were told they could return after 6 p.m. Wednesday.
This article originally appeared on Austin American-Statesman: Bastrop fire: Prescribed burn led to wildfire, hundreds of evacuations