Saturday, March 26, 2022– A weekend blaze near Mico that scorched more than 1,000 acres prompted Gov. Greg Abbott to add Medina County to a growing list of Texas counties named in state disaster declarations due to recent wildfires.
Abbott took the action Sunday during a visit to Medina County for an official briefing on the Das Goat wildfire that resulted in mandatory evacuations for residents in the Medina Lake area.
“This disaster declaration accelerates the capabilities for Medina County to be able to respond to this disaster,” Abbott said. “It makes available all the state resources that may be needed to respond to this disaster.”
Medina County Judge Chris Schuchart told reporters that despite three homes lost to the flames many more threatened properties were saved.
“If you were up in that neighborhood and saw how close it got to so many other homes you would be thinking there was a miracle that only three homes were destroyed because that neighborhood has been damaged severely by fire,” Schuchart said.
As of Monday evening the Medina County Office of Emergency Management listed the Das Goat wildfire as 95 percent contained. County Road 2615, closed from just north of Paradise Canyon to County Road 265 was scheduled to reopen Tuesday morning, allowing entrance to High Mountain subdivision residents evacuated during the fire.
At least three miles of County Road 271, an important fire break in the wildfire battle, remained closed south from the junction with County Road 265 with hopes it will also be reopened Tuesday afternoon (press day).
Elevated fire risk due to high winds, low humidity and drought has already resulted in disaster declarations covering Blanco, Brown, Comanche, Erath, Hood, Potter, Runnels, Williamson, Brooks, Coleman, Eastland, Grayson, Mason, Randell and Stark counties. A request for a federal disaster declaration covering all 16 counties is possible, Abbott said.
“These are challenging times across the state of Texas with regard to the different types of disasters we are dealing with,” he said. “But we know that with this proclamation and with the response we expect the outcome for Medina County is going to be far better than it might have been.”
A speedy assessment of the overall damage following the fire will play a key role in obtaining a federal disaster declaration, Abbott said. He urged residents of affected counties to complete the Texas Division of Emergency Management (TDEM) Self Reporting Damage Survey at damage.tdem.texas.gov.
“That’s going to help the state of Texas and Medina County respond more quickly and help get you the relief you need,” he said.
Medina County has been under a countywide burn ban since March 17. Local fire departments requested help from the Texas Forest Service Friday afternoon after the first reports of Das Goat about four miles southwest of Mico.
Questioned by reporters, Keith Lutz, Medina County emergency management coordinator, verified reports that the Das Goat wildfire originated from a vehicle fire.
“It was some type of mechanical issue,” Lutz said. “Of course, it was on one of our county roads that have a lot of vegetation along the side. (The driver) just naturally pulled off the road. You know, we’re taught not to block the road, but under the current conditions, staying up on the asphalt with a burning vehicle is not a bad idea.”
First responders on the scene quickly accessed the situation and immediately reached out to the Texas A&M Fire Service, he said. Had it not been for the state’s rapid intervention the acreage lost to Das Goat could easily have been double that reported.
“Our first responders did a fantastic job of quickly accessing (the situation) and reaching out immediately to the Forest Service,” he said.
Texas Division of Emergency Management Chief W. Nim Kidd joined Lutz and Schuchart in praising the efforts of local volunteer emergency responders as well.
“The volunteers of the Medina County Emergency Service Districts left their homes and jobs to be first on scene,” Kidd said. “They’ve done a remarkable job out there.”
Following the initial response the Texas A&M Forest Service activated the Texas Intrastate Fire Mutual Aid System (TIFMAS) strike team, reserved for dealing with flooding, wildfires and hurricanes. Also dispatched was an attack crew that included a Texas Forest Service Task Force equipped with bulldozers, aircraft, fire engines and water tenders.
However, despite the massive effort, the situation worsened around noon Saturday. Officials ordered an evacuation of residents living on County Road 2615 between County Road 265 south of Paradise Canyon, including High Mountain Ranch subdivision. A voluntary evacuation was suggested for Summit Ridge, Bear Springs Ranch, Ranchland Oaks, Medina Oaks and Laurel Canyon subdivisions.
An evacuation shelter that opened at Loma Alta Middle School in San Antonio closed Sunday in preparation for the return of students. A new shelter has opened at Our Lady of Guadalupe Church in Helotes.
As of Sunday afternoon, 19 agencies had joined the response to the Das Goat wildfire, Abbott said.
“There are about 200 firefighters engaged in fighting this blaze,” Abbott said. “There are five aircraft including four Blackhawks and one air attack provided by the Texas National Guard.” Other equipment includes six dozers, four of which are state owned and two of are privately owned, he said.
County Judge Schuchart said the firefighters converging on Medina County represent the farthest corners of the state.
“I had to stop a guy the other day and say, ‘Sorry, where is Needham, Texas?’” he said. “It’s not even on the map. We’ve been blessed that so many organizations have come to help. We hope we can repay them but not because (they have a) disaster like this.”
Beyond containing the threat of fire damage, other concerns have arisen in the wake of Das Goat. Abbott assured homeowners subject to evacuation orders that law enforcement during the emergency would be adequate to protect their property.
“Your sheriff is working with his team around the clock with the available sources of the Texas Department of Public Safety to make sure that the streets of any area evacuated will be constantly patrolled.”
Further aggravating the situation is an electrical outage attributed to damaged power lines that has affected more than 100 homes, Abbott said. Further damage to the power grid is anticipated.
“All I can tell you is those responsible for getting those power lines back up and running are working as swiftly as they possibly can but their hands are tied by the status of the fire,” Abbott said.
The good news, Abbott said, is that no lives have been lost nor injuries reported.
“That’s so incredibly important because one thing we all know is that property can be destroyed, but it can also be rebuilt,” he said. “If you lose a life you can’t rebuild anything.”
By Anton Riecher
Devine News Correspondent
UPDATE Monday, April 1, 2022–The fire was still 95% contained according to Medina County Emergency Management, as firefighters continued battling hot spots on Day 8.