AUSTIN, Texas – Firefighters in Central Texas are halfway to controlling a wildfire that's destroyed dozens of homes, and authorities said Saturday that enough progress has been made to allow some residents to return to their neighborhoods.
The Hidden Pines Fire has consumed about 4,600 acres and razed nearly 50 homes and seven businesses, most of them just north of Buescher State Park.
Bastrop County Judge Paul Pape said during a news conference Saturday evening that about 50 percent of the fire is contained, and that the fire had not spread during the entire day.
"It has been a good day in the battle," he said.
About 200 firefighters from across Texas have battled the blaze during daylight, and Pollock said a DC-10 jet tanker flown in from Tennessee that dropped nearly 12,000 gallons of retardant on the smoldering area Friday was effective in closing gaps in the fire line.
Pape said some people would be allowed to return to their homes Saturday evening and Sunday morning. Power was already being restored in some areas.
No injuries have been reported since the fire began Tuesday. A preliminary investigation has determined a farmer mistakenly started the fire as he dragged a shredder through tall grass, causing an overheated bearing to ignite grass clippings.
The wildfire has scorched more than 7 miles of forestland in an area about 40 miles southeast of Austin. But Bastrop County Emergency Management Coordinator Mike Fisher said firefighters "have got the upper hand on this thing."
Kari Hines, spokeswoman for the Forest Service, said that the fire had not made any large gains in acreage over the last 24 hours.
She said a primary concern for firefighters is embers blown into areas where there are large patches of unburned vegetation, creating more flames to fight.
The fire is chewing much of the same area that was devastated in 2011 by a far more massive wildfire that wiped out 1,600 homes and killed two people. But this time, winds have paled to the 50 mph gusts that overwhelmed firefighters four years ago.
About 400 homes have been evacuated since the Hidden Pines Fire began. About 200 residents have checked into local shelters, though authorities said few have stayed overnight as most slept in motels or the homes of friends.