Kai Ryssdal: Firefighters in Texas are beginning to gain control of the wildfires there. More than 170 fires have erupted in the past week, fueled by high winds and a yearlong drought. Four deaths so far and hundreds of homes have been lost.
Colin McDonald is the environment reporter for the San Antonio Express-News. He’s just back from Bastrop County, about 25 miles east of Austin, earlier today. Thanks for being with us.
Colin McDonald: Hello.
Ryssdal: First things first I suppose, what’s the latest on the fire from where you see it?
McDonald: There’s multiple fires. Today we have much lighter winds than we did earlier this week, so the containment numbers are going up. Hopefully if the winds stay below 10-15 miles an hour, they have a much better chance of actually getting containment.
Ryssdal: Remind us, would you, how many structures have been lost? The last number I saw was 800.
McDonald: Total statewide it’s more than 1,000. Because the fires are not controlled, the firefighters aren’t focusing on counting the number of structures that have burned. They’re focusing on protecting the ones that haven’t burned, but statewide this year we’ve probably lost at least 1,200. In the last week, we’ve lost over 1,000.
Ryssdal: The impression a lot of us have, just by reading the news reports, is that basically the whole state of Texas is on fire. That’s not true, but it’s a wide swath of the state, isn’t it?
McDonald: Yeah, there are fires across Texas right now. Of the 254 counties, 251 of them have burn bans — from the grasslands of West Texas to the pinewoods of East Texas.
Ryssdal: Early on when these fires started, were state firefighters in a position to have enough people and enough bodies to get in there and fight these fires or have state budget cuts sort of done their number down there as well?
McDonald: It’s a bit of a mixed bag. Yes the state’s budgets have been cut, but this year we’ve been on basically high alert since March. We’re now in the 10th driest month ever in the history of Texas. We’ve had high winds. We’ve had big fires since April. So we’ve had federal crews, state crews, and local crews positioned and on high alert all summer.
Ryssdal: Colin McDonald, he’s the environment reporter for the San Antonio Express-News. We got him in the newsroom in San Antonio.
McDonald: Thank you.
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