Containment 'out the window' on Nacogdoches Co. fire

NACOGDOCHES COUNTY, TX (KTRE) - Fire crews scrambled Wednesday evening to gain control over previously-contained areas of a massive Nacogdoches County wildfire.

Nacogdoches County Sheriff Thomas Kerss said outbreaks kept fire fighters busy on the northern end of the blaze. First responders are working to re-draw containment lines from Highway 204 to Highway 21 in the Douglass area.

The Dexter community off Highway 204, in northern Nacogdoches County remains under evacuation orders. Kerss said those residents may be allowed to return Thursday.

Officials are deciding on whether or not to close Highway 204 and FM 1648.

Highway 21 remains closed from Douglass to Linwood. County Road 3 is also closed.

It's looking like another long night for firefighters and residents in the path of the fire, called the Angelina River Bottom Fire.

The only line drawn between firefighters efforts to put out a troublesome wildfire is the Angelina River.

"Our goal is to try to close this thing off on both sides of the river," said Kerss from the command center in Douglass.

Four days of grueling, around the clock labor. "All out the window," says Kerss. A fire once 75% contained is around 50% contained, late Wednesday night. Kerss said the containment estimates continue to change due to flare-ups and hot spots.

"I'm concerned about it spreading. They thought they had it contained several times. It keeps jumping," said Cherokee County Sheriff James Campbell. He was posted at a command center about a mile west of the river.

Brad George with the Cherokee County Sheriff's Office said the blaze onthe Cherokee County side was not moving as quickly and was partially contained. He said the Texas Forest Service would return Thursday morning with plows and fire retardant. That portion of the fire appeared to be moving slowly in a southwesterly direction, according to George.

Bulldozers lined up along Highway 21 prepare to disk up fire lanes. Combine the efforts with the well-tested "fighting fire with fire." The method kept the fast moving blaze from pushing across Highway 21 Tuesday night.

"Instead of having a ranging fire at us, we started with a small fire bringing to it," explained firefighter Jason Kellenberger.

Maybe it will work elsewhere. The fires can break out in just a matter of seconds. Wednesday, crews were eating lunch, then suddenly the sight of black smoke.

Smoke from the almost 5,000 acre fire fills the lungs of firefighters and citizens alike. Masks are worn to prevent breathing problems.

About 200 residents live in Linwood, Central High and Atoy. The Cherokee County communities are on standby.

Kerss said a few barns and sheds burned Wednesday, but no homes were affected.

"Yesterday we were concerned enough to pack everything up and get ready to leave, just in case it was real bad because it looked bad yesterday," said Linwood property owner Tracy Smith. But today the family unpacked.

"A lot of them are staying and just kinda riding it out to the last minute," said firefighter, Josh Few.

Manpower is an issue. Angelina Fire Academy students got some valuable on the job training. Crews from Nacogdoches, Cherokee, and Angelina Counties are leading the effort.

The goal is to stop the Angelina River Bottom Fire once and for all, without loss of lives or property.

Kerss said it appears the sparks from the Douglass-area fire have blown over to the Sacul area, on the Cherokee County side, starting a 150-acre blaze.

"I think it's the same fire and that's how we're treating it now," Kerss said.

Winds pushed the fire past containment lines near Sacul, on FM 323 and State Highway 21 West, Kerss said. Officials have evacuated residences in the Dexter community.

"Containment's gone out the window today," Kerss said.

Kerss said firefighters are back on the north side of the fire and working on a new containment line to protect the Lilbert community.

On Tuesday, as firefighters begin to contain the wildfire in Nacogdoches County, the focus had shifted to Cherokee County, as the fire jumped over the Angelina River. Firefighters there did not have much more luck Wednesday afternoon.

"It's jumped our lines a couple times and appears to have spread more," said Brad George of the Cherokee County Sheriff's Office.

The fire reached State Highway 21 West Tuesday night, and flamed up on the other side of the road a few times. But firefighters were able to extinguish those flames quickly and the fire has held a line at the highway.

"It settled some during the night," Kerss said. "Of course it did that the night before too and then the winds picked up."

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