Monday, September 5, 2011

Central Texas fires force some school districts to close

Several Central Texas school districts are closing schools Tuesday as wildfires continue to threaten their communities. Schools are being used as evacuation centers for local residents.
All schools in the Bastrop Independent School District will be closed today and all extracurricular actives have been canceled.
According to the Austin American-Statesman, Bastrop Superintendent Steve Murray and district leaders are assessing the situation every 12 hours to determine how long schools will remain closed.
“We’re just playing it by ear like everybody else,” Murray told the Statesman. “I anticipate that if things proceed like they are, that we’ll have to close school again.”
Murray said Texas Education Commissioner Robert Scott called him on Monday to see how the state can assist and to let him know that the Texas Education Agency will work with the district on school waivers for the missed days of school. 
“If we have to be out of school for a few days and we miss a little instruction, it pales in comparison to the basic needs that these folks have,” Murray said. “Right now, we’re in the mode of just taking care of each other and making sure everyone is safe.”
Smithville ISD schools and six schools in Leander ISD will also be closed today. Leander's Vandegrift High School is being used as a Red Cross shelter. Superintendent Bret Champion told the Statesman the school has been a hub for people in search of information or in need of a place to stay. Four schools in the Steiner Ranch area — Canyon Ridge Middle School and Bush, Steiner and River Ridge elementaries — will be closed until school officials can determine any damage. Until the fires are out and electricity is restored to the area, district leaders will daily reassess whether the schools will reopen, according to the Statesman.
As of 9:30 p.m. Monday, several wildfires continued to burn. Gov. Rick Perry said he will seek a major disaster declaration from the federal government to help in recovery efforts from the Texas wildfires.
Five hundred people have been evacuated and at least 13 homes destroyed by a fire in Leander, officials said.
The 300-acre fire, which began about 4:40 p.m., is burning in an area that stretches from Bagdad Road to U.S. 183, and from Crystal Falls Parkway to South Street. Officials said at 9 p.m. that the blaze was 70 percent contained.
In Bastrop, about 25,000 acres had burned and 476 homes have been destroyed in the county as of 3:45 p.m. Monday, according to the Texas Forest Service.

The fire in Steiner Ranch was only 25 percent contained, officials said at a press conference about 4:30 p.m. Monday Twenty-four homes have been destroyed, 30 homes have been damaged, and 125 acres have burned, officials said.

Strong winds and heavy flare-ups have combined to help the Pedernales Bend fire escape containment, officials said Monday afternoon. The fire, which started near Haynie Flat Road about noon Saturday, was about 50 percent contained late Monday. The fire has gone south of Texas 71 and split into a new fire.
Crews were still fighting the fire, which has gone south of Texas 71 and has split into a new fire, late Monday night. The fire has burned about 6,400 acres and was about 2 miles wide 5 miles long at its peak, officials said.
All of the 67 structures that were damaged, including at least 44 homes or businesses, were west of the Pedernales River, according to officials. No word on how many homes were destroyed. 

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