Nacogdoches Co. fire spreads to Cherokee Co., evacuations ordered

NACOGDOCHES COUNTY, TX (KTRE) - Cherokee County ordered mandatory evacuations late Tuesday night, ahead of a spreading wildfire.

Residents in the Atoy community, along State Highway 343, are under the order. This includes the area along FM 851 to Highway 21.

By 9:00 p.m., the fire had reached State Highway 21 and officials expected the fire to cross the road by midnight.

The Nacogdoches County Sheriff's Office says officials have shut down a portion of State Highway 21 West. Sheriff Thomas Kerss said the road will be blocked between FM 225 and Alto.

The Nacogdoches County fire has jumped containment lines and is threatening homes in the Upshaw community, according to Kerss.

Kerss said the fire has burned 3,500 acres. It has crossed the Angelina River and burning timber in Cherokee County.

Kerss estimates the fire is about 35 percent contained.

"As long as it keeps moving north to south and not east to west, we won't have to evacuate anyone in that sparsely populated area," Kerss said.

In Cherokee County residences have been evacuated on County Road 241 and between the Angelina River and Hwy. 21.

Cherokee County has shelters set up at Alto Community Fellowship, Church of Christ in Rusk and at the First United Methodist Church in Jacksonville.

"It's moving predominantly from the south to southeast," Kerss said. "The winds keep shifting on us and it's again threatening the Upshaw community. We've had to make sure to protect them first."

Kerss said officials have evacuated Nacogdoches County Road 881 and closed traffic to emergency only on County Road 3. State Highway 21 is closed to vehicular traffic between Douglass and Linwood. Officials advise motorists attempting to travel between Alto, Douglass and Nacogdoches seek alternate routes.

Kerss said no progress was made overnight on the fire on FM 343, but firefighters did manage to contain fires on the intersection of FM 95 and State Highway 103 and on County Road 848.

"The winds aren't as strong, so we hope to get a containment line today," Kerss said.

Kerss said the fire is burning mostly undeveloped timberland and is about three miles away from State Highway 21. The fire is moving in a southeast direction.

Firefighters have managed to contain a fire in Houston County which started on Sunday, but not before it destroyed 19 structures.

Nineteen structures were destroyed. Three of those were occupied houses and two were unoccupied. Firefighters did manage to save 46 structures.

The fire has burned 4,950 acres, Hunt said.

All roads in the area were opened again Tuesday afternoon.

Hunt has been lending a hand in providing food for the working crews. He was surprised at how quickly the fire had spread.

Some of those structures, barns, sheds, even hay caught fire and was completely charred. Miles and miles of grass are now blackened by the fire.

"Well, it's kind of scary, because a lot of people in Houston County are affected by the fire," nearby resident Anthony Harris said. "Some lost homes and some were threatened by the fire and had to evacuate. I mean, people have lost cattle. The ponds are drying up so bad, there ain't no water."

Some evacuees got a lucky break as their belongings were spared from the blaze.

"It didn't burn anything in our yard," Linda Cordova said. "It went completely around our house. My animals are good, they're still alive. But, the houses around us, they're gone. And it's just amazing. It's like a miracle that the fire didn't touch our place."

State officials say more than 1,000 homes have burned in at least 57 wildfires in Texas over the past week.

Speaking Tuesday at a news conference near one of the fire-ravaged areas, Texas Gov. Rick Perry said more than 100,000 acres have burned in rain-starved Texas.

Perry said more than 1,000 homes have burned since Labor Day weekend, but Texas emergency management chief Nim Kidd subsequently said that number of homes has actually been lost in the past week.

The Texas Forest Service says nearly 600 of the torched homes are in a devastating Central Texas fire that's still burning out of control.

Waller County Judge Glenn Beckendorff says between 50 and 75 homes have been damaged or destroyed by a wildfire raging about 40 miles northwest of Houston.

Beckendorff says the homes are part of an unincorporated area that straddles his county and Montgomery County to the east.

Beckendorff, 61, calls the fire "the worst I can remember in my lifetime." He says the wind was down Tuesday, but it was still causing problems because it had changed directions.

The fire also is burning in Grimes County to the north.

Grimes County Judge Betty Shiflett says she knows of only two homes in the county that have burned. But she says the fire became "more active" on Tuesday and that the county was "in a little bit of an emergency mode."

Authorities say two people have died in a massive wildfire near Austin, Texas, that has destroyed 600 homes.

Bastrop County Sheriff Terry Pickering said Tuesday that he had no details about the deaths.

The Texas Forest Service said Tuesday morning that firefighters had not begun to contain the blaze and that it had scorched about 30,000 acres since it started on Sunday.

The fire about 30 miles southeast of the state capital was one of dozens throughout Texas that started over Labor Day weekend that were fanned by winds from Tropical Storm Lee.

Two Nacogdoches teams helping fight the Palo Pinto fire have been pulled off that fire and are being sent down to Bastrop County.

Tuesday evening, Governor Rick Perry says a 100-member search team will comb Bastrop County to search for more possible victims of the massive wildfire. Perry said the search will begin Wednesday morning.

Perry said late Tuesday he deployed Texas Task Force 1, the state's elite search team, to help local authorities. The team includes a dozen canines.

Texas officials say more than 1,000 homes have been destroyed and more than 100,000 acres have burned in wildfires over the past week.

To help friends and family locate loved ones who have been evacuated due to these wildfires, impacted Texans can register themselves on the Red Cross' Safe and Well website at by clicking on 'List Yourself as Safe and Well,' or by calling 1-800-RED CROSS (1-800-733-2767) from any phone. Individuals can also log on to register loved ones who may not have power or access to a computer, or search a list of registered names. 

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