Escaped prescribed fire prompts evacuations southeast of Austin, Texas

The County Judge responsible for fire suppression in Bastrop County, said, “None of us can predict the weather more than 15 minutes ahead of time.”

Updated at 9:13 a.m. CT Jan. 20, 2022

Map, Rolling Pines Fire Jan. 19, 2022
Map showing the location of the Rolling Pines Fire, 1:37 a.m. CT Jan. 19, 2022.

Maps of the Rolling Pines Fire near Bastrop 28 miles southeast of Austin, Texas.

Map, Rolling Pines Fire Jan. 19,2022

At least one large air tanker was used on the fire, including the RJ85 seen above.

Originally published at 9:03 p.m. Jan. 19, 2022

Rolling Pines Fire
Rolling Pines Fire, Jan. 18, 2022. Mario V.

A prescribed fire in Bastrop State Park 28 miles southeast of Austin, Texas escaped on Tuesday. County Judge Paul Pape said 250 families were required to evacuate as the fire that was intended to burn 150 acres grew to 783 acres by Wednesday morning. At 6 p.m. Wednesday some of those residents were allowed to return to their homes. The fire was named “Rolling Pines Fire.” There were no reports of injuries or any residences that burned.

At 10:30 a.m. on Tuesday Texas Parks and Wildlife Department initiated the prescribed fire at the State Park. Shortly after noon spot fires occurred outside the area that was intended to be burned, according to Carter Smith, Executive Director of Texas Parks and Wildlife.

Texas is one of a few states that designate a county judge or sheriff, rather than fire professionals, to be *responsible for suppression of wildfires outside of incorporated cities. In Texas, judges take on that role. In a news conference County Judge Paul Pape said he is responsible for emergency response in Bastrop county.

Judge Paul Pape
Basrop County Judge Paul Pape. KXAN.

Judge Pape was asked by a reporter in a news conference Tuesday why on a day when local fire departments were advising residents to not do any outdoor burning due to strong winds, the state park decided to conduct the prescribed fire. He deferred the question to Carter Smith, Executive Director of Texas Parks and Wildlife, who said, “It is my understanding that we were well within the prescription of the weather parameters that were called for in the plan.”

Judge Pape said, “Based on everything they knew this morning, it was an appropriate day to burn. None of us can predict the weather more than 15 minutes ahead of time, and sometimes things happen we just don’t anticipate. I’m not going to be critical of the efforts to protect our citizens from wildfire by using prescribed burns. I think it’s a great tool and one that we need to continue to encourage people to use.”

A weather station near Bastrop, BTRT2, at 12:08 p.m. on Tuesday January 18 recorded sustained wind speeds of 16 mph with gusts up to 25 mph out of the south-southwest while the relative humidity was 53 percent. During the next four hours the RH dropped to 40 percent with south winds of 13 mph gusting to 23 mph. The 10-hour time lag fuel moisture during that time dropped from 11 percent to 8 percent.

With gusts over 20 mph it can be very difficult to keep a prescribed fire contained.

*In Colorado and Wyoming the County Sheriffs have responsibility for suppression of fires outside incorporated cities.

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Matt.