POLK COUNTY, TX (KTRE) - Firefighters from at least nine different agencies continue to battle the massive Bearing Fire in Trinity and Polk counties.
The 14,000-acre blaze is the third largest fire in East Texas history. The Chicken Fire in Nacogdoches in 2000 was 20,0000 acres, and the Moore Branch Fire in Newton County that same year was 15,856 acres. The Bearing Fire has been burning since Friday, prompting evacuations and loss of property.
High winds on Sunday are making it increasingly difficult for firefighters to contain fires across the greater East Texas area.
Called the "Bearing Fire" by the Texas Forest Service, officials have increased their estimate of burned land to nearly 15,000 acres in Trinity and Polk Counties. It is now about 800 acres shy of becoming the largest wildfire in East Texas history. The largest on record in East Texas was the "Morebranch Fire" that burned 15,800 acres in 2000. Late Sunday afternoon, the wildfire remained at 40 percent containment.
Firefighters are also battling large blazes in Jasper, Grimes, Walker and Madison counties.
"We have reached a point where absolutely any spark can start a fire," said Karen Stafford, spokeswoman for the Texas Forest Service.
Stafford said TFS considers conditions to be at 90 to 100 percent ignition, meaning sparks from even just a car parked in tall grass can start a wildfire.
According to a report sent to the Texas Forest Service by Trinity County Judge Doug Page, the initial fire is believed to have been sparked by a trailer being towed on FM 354 in Polk County. Forest Service spokesperson Karen Stafford said an overheated wheel bearing is to blame. The fire was originally reported Friday around 12:30 p.m. to the Corrigan Police Department. That two-acre wildfire started in Polk County and spread to Trinity County.
At least two homes have since been destroyed and six hunting cabins have burned. No injuries are reported.
Fire officials compare the perimeter of the "Bearing" fire to the shape of a human hand. Five segments of fire are extending from a large, central area.
A large-scale response is underway through the coordinated efforts of 12 fire departments from Trinity and Polk Counties, as well as the Texas Forest Service. From the air, three helicopters are assisting in the fire attack. On the ground, two fire engines and eight bulldozers from California, Oklahoma, and Wisconsin are manning the front lines. More dozers have been requested. Firefighters, supervisors, and safety officers from several counties are also assisting.
Around 8:30 Sunday night, the Trinity County Judge issued a mandatory evacuation order for Trinity County residents in the Griffin Ranch Road area and Helmic Road area. This is about five miles south/southwest of Apple Springs.
Other residents in Trinity County evacuated on Saturday are now being allowed to return. The Texas Forest Service is urging extreme caution when returning to the area. Families in the communities of Nigton, Helmic, Trevat, and Sulphur were all evacuated. Apple Springs fell under a voluntary evacuation.
The Texas Forest Service reports they have exhausted all their resources to fight the blaze, which at one point Friday was 80 percent contained. Since then, high winds and dry conditions have spread the fire causing firefighters to lose their containment lines. Fire crews are trying to create new lines to stop the flames.
The smoke plumes and ashes have been spotted as far away as Hudson, Lufkin, and parts of Nacogdoches.
Authorities are reporting problems with curious onlookers in the immediate fire area. "It's important for East Texans to recognize the critical fire conditions we are experiencing," said Stafford. "There is a high probability of ignition if a spark occurs." The Texas Forest Service is asking the public to stay out of the affected areas, to avoid any hindrance to emergency efforts.
A fire on the Walker and Madison County line has forced forest officials to shut down a portion I-45. That blaze is over about 1,000 acres and has forced 200 families to evacuate their homes in the Midway area.
In Grimes County, 20 houses have been destroyed and 100 more have been evacuated in a 300-acre fire.
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