Nightfall calms down winds, give firefighters hope - KTRE.com | Lufkin and Nacogdoches, Texas

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Nightfall calms down winds, give firefighters hope

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Lilbert community fire. Viewer-submitted photo. Lilbert community fire. Viewer-submitted photo.
EAST TEXAS (KTRE) -

Wind speeds have gone down with the sun Monday night and firefighters are finally getting a chance to keep fires all over the state from spreading.

Firefighters have contained four fires in the last few hours in Houston County and Nacogdoches County and are now making progress on larger fires in both counties.

[View a slideshow of fires in North and Deep East Texas]

On FM 343 in the Cushing area, winds started picking up around 11 a.m. and firefighters scurried to move equipment and stations to a safer place.

Nacogdoches County Sheriff Thomas Kerss said officials have evacuated the community of Upshaw as the winds seemed to have pushed the fire in an eastern direction. He said the swirling winds make it tough to predict where it is going.

"The high winds have caused it to jump any containment lines that the forest service and our local VFDs had been able to establish earlier in the night," Kerss said.

"They came and told us we had 15 minutes to evacuate," said Virginia Mixon. "My daughter and I left and went up to the fire station in Lilbert. My husband is still down there and I'm very worried about him, but he won't leave."

Kerss said he has requested more resources from the Texas Forest Service, but they are hard to come by as personnel and resources are stretched thin across the state. A DPS helicopter is scheduled to go up and give firefighters an idea of what they're up against.

Kerss said it may take time to find out how much has been destroyed in the fire.

"We think we've saved all the homes but that fire grew so fast from the wind it may be a while before we know the full extent of damage," Kerss said. "We're pretty sure a couple deer leases are gone."

The fire started around 7 p.m. Sunday and TxDOT officials have closed a stretch of FM 343, between County Road 1648 and the Cherokee County line, Sgt. Bill Baker with the Nacogdoches County Sheriff's Office said.

Ralph Cullom with the Texas Forest Service said the fire is spread over 300 acres and 60 residences have been evacuated. Officials have set up a command post in the Lilbert community. Eight tractors are on the scene and the fire is about 20 percent contained, Cullom said.

"The wind's died down a lot," Cullom said in an 8 p.m. phone interview. "I think they'll make good progress tonight. They've let some volunteers go that have been here since last night."

"It's scary because I've got everything I own and have and possess is down there in that house," Mixon said.

"Last night I lost contact with my brother for about five minutes and it was very scary," Shelia Brashears said.

Brashears lives near the fire. Her brother has been fighting it without sleep since it started Sunday.

"They're doing something free for all of us because that's just who they are," Brashears said. "We just sit and pray."

Residents on County Road 3 have been advised to prepare to evacuate, but Cullum did not think it would be necessary.

"I'm looking out at the smoke and it actually looks good," Cullom said. "I'll see a little black smoke, but it immediately dies down."

Red Cross has set up an evacuation center in Nacogdoches.

TxDOT has set up a barrier on the intersection of County Road 1648 and is directing drivers to either turn around or turn right on CR 1648.

Baker said some homes in the Lilbert community were evacuated Sunday night, and at around 11 a.m., officials were trying to evacuate a few more homes after the winds picked up and began pushing the fire southeast on FM 343.

Anyone interested in delivering food and water to firefighters can take it to the Lilbert Methodist Baptist Church fellowship hall.

Kerss said a vehicle accident has started a fire on County Road 848, just a few miles from the one on FM 343. As of 8 p.m. Monday, Kerss estimated the fire to be around 100 acres. A third is burning on FM 2782, near the SFA Experimental Forest, which is now contained. A fourth is burning near the intersection of State Highway 103 and FM 95 and is not contained. And a fifth fire, on County Road 127, is contained.

The fire on State Highway 7 in Houston County is out of control again, according to a dispatcher with the Houston County Sheriff's Office. Authorities have evacuated homes on the road between FM 232 and U.S. 287. As of 5:30 p.m. Monday, residences were also being evacuated on County Roads 4520, 4525, 4130, 4141, 4145, Private Roads 8015 and 8120 and in the Possum Pass community.

Around 10:00 p.m. Monday, Houston County Judge Lonnie Hunt estimated flames were about 500 yards from Highway 287. He said the fire was inching closer and winds helped flames jump the road in several places. Hunt said those fires were quickly extinguished. As of 8 p.m., the road was closed to everyone but homeowners in the area.

Spradling said the fire has burned 205 acres and destroyed two homes. Many structures are threatened as the fire has jumped multiple roads.

A dispatcher said another fire is burning north of Grapeland, off County Road 1709. This fire was contained as of 8 p.m.

Anyone interested in donating to those firefighters can bring food and water to the Crockett Senior Citizens Center. Volunteers tell us they are feeding fire crews and request any snack foods and drinks that can be carried by firefighters back into the field.

A shelter for families displaced by fire has been set up at the First Baptist Church in Crockett.

Another fire in Rusk County, near Mt. Enterprise, has burned 150 acres and threatened numerous homes, while destroying one home.

Sunday's high winds have fires spreading across the state. According to a story on KLTV.com, the Gregg County Sheriff's Department has confirmed that a 20-year-old woman and her 18-month-old child died when they could not escape their burning home between Gladewater and Liberty City. A family confirmed the identities as Valerie McBride and Kloe Jane McBride.

The fire started outside the home, and consumed the house.

Authorities say the fires were propelled partly by the high winds caused by Tropical Storm Lee. Thousands of acres were burned in eastern and central parts of the state.

Authorities say a wildfire burning southeast of Austin, Texas, has destroyed about 300 homes and is advancing unchecked through parched ranchland along a 16-mile front.

Texas Forest Service spokeswoman Jan Amen said Monday that firefighters have been unable to begin containing the blaze in Bastrop County. The Bastrop County Complex has now spread to 25,000 acres. At least 476 homes have been lost.

The fire is roughly 30 miles from Austin and is moving away from the city. KVUE-TV in Austin reports that nearly half of the 6,000-acre Bastrop State Park has burned.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. Copyright 2011 KTRE. All rights reserved.

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