Authorities calling Polk County wildfire second largest in East Texas history

Published: Jun. 18, 2011 at 7:19 PM CDT|Updated: Jun. 19, 2011 at 3:58 PM CDT
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An airplane drops fire retardant on the massive wildfire.
An airplane drops fire retardant on the massive wildfire.
Jay Milner lives near the Trinity and Polk County line.
Jay Milner lives near the Trinity and Polk County line.

POLK COUNTY, TX (KTRE) - A massive wildfire, named the "Bearing Fire" by the Texas Forest Service has now burned 14,000 acres making it the second largest wildfire in the history of East Texas, according to the agency.

The largest wildfire on record in East Texas was the "Moore brush Fire" that burned 15,800 acres.

A helicopter mapped out the 14,000 acres Saturday night. At least two homes have been lost and six hunting cabins have burned. No injuries have been reported.

The fire is now at 40 percent containment.

The fire was originally reported Friday around 12:30 p.m. to the Corrigan Police Department at two acres. The massive fire is now forcing families in Trinity County out of their homes. A mandatory evacuation is now underway for Nigton and Helmic Communities. Apple Springs is under a voluntary evacuation.

The Texas Department of Transportation is also evacuating residents in the Trevat and Sulphur communities. The homes in danger are on the northern end of FM 2262.

Crews have now switched to structure protection as opposed to fighting the fire, according to authorities. The Texas Forest Service reports they have exhausted all their resources to fight the blaze.

"We have a lot of faith in the firefighters," said Michael Hart, a local resident. "You walk out your front door and there's a fire engine sitting there, and you got a brush truck and other equipment. You got firefighters right there on hand. They've been waiting all afternoon. It's pretty comforting to know that they're there for you."

Jay Milner watched smoke fill the sky, hoping the massive wildfire didn't engulf his home near the county line.

"That's the first thing I did," said Jay Milner. "Went outside to see if I could see any smoke or smell any, and you can smell it...I usually go to bed early, but I stayed up until about 11 o'clock last night, checking on it."

According to the Texas Forest Service, the wildfire started Friday and has now burned 14,000 acres on the Polk and Trinity County line.

The blaze is currently 20 percent contained, according to Karen Stafford with the Texas Forest Service. The fire was 80 percent contained Friday night, but high winds and dry conditions have spread the fire causing firefighters to lose their containment lines. Texas Forest Service workers are trying to create new lines to stop the flames.

The wildfire started in Polk County and spread to Trinity County. No word yet on what started the fire.

The smoke plumes and ashes can be spotted as far away as Hudson and Lufkin.

A KTRE crew followed the smoke onto Carmona Road just miles from Corrigan and found Walter Harbuck with his granddaughters.

"We got a couple things that would fit on this trailer and that was all we had room for, but we're pretty sure we're going to be okay," said Harbuck.  "We actually drug a fire line this morning. We have a small lake and we drug a fire line and put our tractors and equipment in there, so if the fire does come in, maybe it'll make it."

Stafford said four helicopters are working to contain the blaze and a tanker airplane is dropping fire retardant on the engulfed area. Several bulldozers are also on-site to draw containment lines. Volunteer firefighters from Polk and Trinity Counties are helping fight the fire as well as firefighters with the Texas Forest Service.

Up until Saturday afternoon, limited information has been available from the Texas Forest Service.

"I'm just worried about my family home," said Kari Ann Hart. "It's been there..the house we're in now has been there almost 20 years. We've been here for 30 and my kids are living there, you know."

The Harts have been waiting for any information they can get.

"Yesterday, throughout the day, we could watch the smoke going as it burnt the woods and stuff around our house, making almost half a circle around our property," said Michael Hart.

Authorities are encouraging residents to avoid the area if possible.

Stay with KTRE and for updates on this story.

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