Bastrop County

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Horns Down: Texas' poverty-by-county numbers too high.

An interactive feature published in the Texas Tribune on Tuesday highlights the number of children in poverty in each state county, as well as the total number of unemployed. Despite the growth in the Texas economy, child poverty rates in our state have continued to rise, according to a report by the liberal think tank Center for Public Policy Priorities. Though Travis County ranks low on the list (No. 142), the feature is worth checking out for any Texas citizen. It draws attention to some alarmingly high figures, such as the 48 percent child poverty rate in Hidalgo county, which is one of the fastest growing counties in the U.S. and home to the University of Texas-Pan American. Though we hope drawing awareness to such issues can help reduce the number of children around us who suffer from the brutal realities of poverty every day, we are disappointed that almost 10 percent of Texas counties have child poverty rates of 30 percent or higher.

Horns Up: Rainfall benefits Bastrop trees.

As the Austin American-Statesman reported Monday, it’s tree planting season in the wildfire-ravaged Bastrop County, and volunteers are pouring in from across the country to help replant trees in an area destroyed by the 2011 fires. If the volunteers, led by local Austin nonprofit TreeFolks, Bastrop State Park and the Texas A&M Forest Service, meet their goal, they will plant more than 1.5 million trees in Bastrop this winter. Last year, a similar effort had little success: Most of the seedlings planted died from lack of water. But heavy October rains this year have made volunteers enthusiastic. Knowing that, it’s easier to take the recent rain in stride.

Horns Down: Austin behind College Station in higher ed rankings.

According to data from the Houston Chronicle, 45.4 percent of Austin residents have a bachelor’s degree or higher, the second highest out of all the cities in Texas. Though the percentage of residents who have a bachelor’s degree or higher in Austin surpasses the percentage in the United States as a whole, which comes in at 29.1 percent, Austin ranks behind College Station, which comes in at 57.3 percent. While this statistic is likely a result of Austin’s larger population, and therefore our city’s greater overall diversity, it would be a lie to say that we’re not a little disappointed to fall behind College Station. It just always feels a little better when we beat the Aggies.

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Thousands of pine seedlings grown at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center at the University of Texas are being packed up and shipped for planting in Bastrop County.

There, they'll replace trees lost in a disastrous wildfire nearly two years ago.

The Austin wildflower center is among tree growers contracted with the Texas Forest Service's reforestation program for the Central Texas county. Some 6 million trees are to be planted over the next several years.

The 2011 fire destroyed 1,691 homes and burned 33,000 acres.

The trees being organized Thursday by wildflower center staff and volunteers will be used for planting events this weekend. The center itself is nearly doubling its size to handle its portion of the Bastrop tree project.

Last year’s devastating Bastrop County wildfire has shown that the vegetation-free area around a home should extend beyond the long-accepted recommendation of 30 feet, Texas Forest Service officials say.

The Austin American Statesman reported Thursday that a study designed to help prepare for future wildfires found that 85 percent of the homes consumed by the most destructive blaze in Texas history had a so-called defensible space of at least 30 feet.

Forest Service researcher Karen Ridenour, author of the 165-page study, didn’t provide a specific recommendation, but she noted that California state law requires a 100-foot radius that’s clear of vegetation. Defensible space, sometimes called “firescaping,” is intended to prevent a wildfire from spreading to the structure.

The Bastrop wildfire that started on Labor Day weekend in 2011 burned 32,400 acres and destroyed 1,696 homes in Central Texas. Two people died. A Texas Forest Service investigation found that the fire was started when wind gusts of more than 30 mph knocked down trees that crashed into overhead power lines, causing sparks that fell into dry grass below.

The report, conducted by several state and county agencies and Texas State University, includes a transcript of the conversation between 911 dispatchers and emergency responders when the fire broke out. It praised the quick response of firefighters, sheriff’s deputies and others who helped get people out of the fire’s path.

Ridenour said 80 percent of the homes destroyed had masonry construction, 84 percent had asphalt roofing and 83 percent had metal roofing. Those materials are not typically considered combustible, she said.

“That tells me it wasn’t the roof but the accumulation of debris in the valleys and leaves in the gutters,” Ridenour said of what probably caused the destruction of the homes.

She added that “little things” such as a bush too close to a window or a straw mat can put homes in jeopardy.

Mike Fisher, emergency management coordinator for the county, said the only way to prepare for future wildfires is to get rid of unnecessary fuel.

“Defensible space and firewise techniques are components that are important to preparation,” he said. “But the reality is that if we are to build homes in a previously unattended forest, we have to do mechanical trimming and prescribed burning.”

The study also looked to other factors, including topography, weather and when homes were built, to determine what may have contributed to the fire’s destructive nature.

Of destroyed homes studied in the report, 34 were built in the 1970s, 116 in the 1980s, 103 in the 1990s, and 67 in the 2000s.

Firefighters from the Coppell Fire Department, who traveled from the DFW area early Monday afternoon, help contain a brush fire around the property of Mount Pleasant Missionary Baptist Church in Cedar Creek, TX.

Photo Credit: Tamir Kalifa | Daily Texan Staff

Fires raged across Central Texas this weekend, affecting the Pflugerville, Bastrop County, Travis County and Hays County areas.

Austin mayor Lee Leffingwell said despite success in controlling fires in the greater Austin area, Bastrop County officials are still fighting to stop fires from spreading. The San Antonio Express-News reported 25,000 acres consumed by the Bastrop fires, with approximately 476 homes destroyed. Gov. Rick Perry returned from out-of-state campaigning for the presidency to address Bastrop citizens.

“[The fire] is not in the city of Austin,” Leffingwell said. “But we don’t work that way. We think of this area as a region, and we’re all in this together.”

Approximately 50 homes in Steiner Ranch have been damaged or destroyed, and Travis County Fire Chief Jim Linardos said residents are not allowed to return to the subdivision until at least Tuesday morning. Travis County police are asking residents to cooperate with possible road closures and detours and to stay away from restricted areas until they are notified of updates.

Linardos said at a press conference Monday that fire and rescue crews were able to keep fires around Lake Travis contained at 25 percent, and no fatalities have been recorded as of Monday. Officials were still working to contain an additional fire nearby in the Pedernales Bend area as of press time.

According to Reuters, 60 separate wildfires spread across the state Monday, killing two in northeast Texas.

Danny Hobby, executive manager of Travis County Emergency Operations, said agencies and fire crews from across Texas are working to help victims in addition to stopping the fires. Hobby said he is glad Texans can come together in this time of need.

Travis County officials set up an overnight shelter at Vandegrift High School to provide solace for residents escaping fires around the Steiner Ranch subdivision. Members of St. Luke’s on the Lake Episcopal Church set up an additional “safe place” on church property across from Steiner Ranch.

“This is just what our church does,” said parish leader Allen Griswold. “When we heard about the fires we started getting our stuff together, and within three hours we had people showing up with food and water. We’re continually feeding people from Steiner Ranch and doing what we can to help.”

Griswold said the church serves as a meeting place where people come to exchange knowledge of the situation, as well as to rest and rehydrate.

Linardos said people are the source for 90 percent of fires, and he urges citizens to do what they can to prevent the possibility of more disasters.

“Your fire resources in this area are stretched thin,” Linardos said. “Don’t test them.”

Printed on September 6, 2011 as: Fires spark tragedy