Two wildfires in Jasper County have converged, creating a fast-moving, 500-acre blaze. Wednesday evening, two helicopters scooped water from nearby Lake Sam Rayburn, dropping it on flames tearing through the Angelina National Forest around Highway 255 and Highway 63.
Forced evacuations are being issued for residents on County Road 32 and some connecting roads. Officials said the wildfire has already destroyed a barn.
Chief Richard Leckie of the Angelina River Fire Department said a cigarette is believe to have sparked the fire.
"Not really nervous, I'm just concerned for people's property and people's lives here." said Leckie.
The Jasper County Sheriff's Office confirms that County Roads 40, 39, and 31 are also being evacuated and closed.
"The fire is traveling very fast and is very hot, so anyone in the area of Highway 255 please be cautious and give right of way to all of our trucks," said Leckie. A large cloud of smoke rising above the forest was visible along Highway 63 between Zavalla and Jasper.
Leckie said Wednesday's blaze is spreading more quickly than the five-thousand acre Power Line wildfire that hit the same part of Jasper County in June. He also said more structures and property are in danger.
"It does compare to the other fire we had here recently. This one, I believe, is traveling faster. We have more structures in danger on this one," said Leckie.
Several fire crews, including Buna, Zavalla, Evadale, Lake Rayburn, Jasper and Angelina River Fire Departments are providing manpower and equipment to contain the blaze.
Local gas station owner, Dallas Lawrence, came out to the scene after her two children, both junior firefighters, sprayed fire retardant on her home.
"They were wetting down our roof when I got here with the ice and water. So, it's kind of scary," said Lawrence.
She stayed to hand out water, ice, and Gatorade to the firefighters on the front line.
"They give their time out here, you know. None of these guys get paid. And, I mean, we've got people from not just our area, but people that have left their areas unprotected to come out here and you know, protect our homes," said Lawrence.
Officials tell us there is virtually no containment at this time. The fire is traveling southwest and is headed toward highway 63.
Authorities are now calling for a voluntary evacuation of Plum Ridge, Concord Heights, Concord Hill, and West Wood communities.
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