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Sept. 13, 2011
Cleanup efforts underway at fire-blackened Bastrop State Park
BASTROP – Bastrop State Park will be closed through at least October as Texas Parks and Wildlife Department personnel continue to douse hot spots on the mostly-burned property and begin assessing damage as well as developing a plan to get the park reopened to the public.
Tuesday, a week after the fire situation at the park reached its worst point, TPWD firefighters and other personnel were working to put out lingering hot spots from the wildfire that first began threatening the park on Sept. 4. Crews also were busy cutting and mulching additional potential fuel sources on the 6,500-acre park.
“The park will be closed at least through October,” says Todd McClanahan, superintendent of the park and nearby Buescher State Park, which so far has escaped any damage from the 34,000-acre Bastrop Complex fire, which claimed two lives and destroyed some 1,500 residences in the area. “First we are going to make the park safe, then we will concentrate on what needs to be done to get the park back open.”
Latest satellite imagery shows that the fire covered slightly less acreage than earlier believed, he said.
“Initially, we though only about 100 acres of the park were left unburned, which would be 99 percent,” McClanahan said. “But the most recent satellite data shows only 95 percent coverage and the severity of that varies.”
He said around-the-clock work by firefighters saved all of the major historic structures on the park. The red sandstone and pine structures on the park, constructed by the Civilian Conservation Corps during the Great Depression, are a National Historic Landmark district. The park is one of only six state parks in the nation with that designation.
“We did lose the wooden cover of a CCC-built scenic overlook, but a Depression-era rain shelter in the Copperas Creek camp site on the park that we had been worried about did make it,” McClanahan said. “We saved all the cabins, the refectory (large meeting hall), bath house, maintenance building and sign shop.”
Not only did stopping the fire save the park’s infrastructure, it helped keep the fire from reaching the heart of Bastrop.
“The park was a good stronghold to keep the fire from going into town,” McClanahan said. “That was very much in the back of our minds…doing anything we could to stop it in the park and keep it from getting into Bastrop. I couldn’t be more proud of our firefighters and all the others who helped.”
McClanahan said he remains concerned about the fate of the endangered Houston toad.
“Because of the drought, the last two or three years have been horrible for the Houston toad,” he said. “They require water to bred, and this spring they did not have a successful season. The overall impact on them from the fire is unknown at this point, but we are worried about them.”
Federally protected since 1972, the Houston toad once ranged over 14 counties. Loss of habitat had constricted that area to mostly Bastrop State Park.
“We ask that anyone wanting to volunteer to just give us a chance to evaluate the severity of damage and we will be calling on assistance once a plan is in place,” McClanahan said.
“Otherwise, we are asking that visitors heed the closed status of the park as it is unsafe at this time.”
What the park needs most is what the rest of the state also needs – rain.
“Our best case scenario is some sustained rain to cool things down,” McClanahan said. “We need steady moisture that will soak in, not a heavy rain that will cause runoff and erosion. Worst case scenario is what’s being forecast, more of the same.”
While Bastrop State Park and nearby Buescher State Park are closed, all other area parks remain open, including nearby Palmetto State Park and Monument Hill State Historic Site.
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