Separate Hill Country fires burn more than 2,000 acres as heat and drought increase danger

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Firefighters worked Thursday to fully contain two intense wildfires that have burned at least 2,200 acres in the Hill Country this week.

Amid the summer’s record heat and dry conditions making vegetation ready fuel, fire crews outside of Fredericksburg continued to battle the Big Sky Fire, a blaze that has scorched 1,400 acres and which was about halfway contained Thursday afternoon, while crews outside of Blanco contended with the Smoke Rider Fire, a blaze at 60% containment as of Thursday afternoon that had burned about 800 acres. Both fires began around midday Tuesday.

Due to the Big Sky Fire, Enchanted Rock State Natural Area was temporarily closed Wednesday but reopened with its regular hours Thursday morning.

Roughly 80 personnel were still working on containing the blaze Thursday morning, said Justin Calhoun, emergency management coordinator for Fredericksburg and Gillespie County. Both ground and air methods are being utilized to fight the fire, he added.

About 15 homes have been evacuated, and three barn structures have been destroyed due to the blaze, Calhoun said. No injuries have been reported at this time, he said. The cause of the fire is still under investigation, Calhoun added.

The significant drought lingering over Central Texas has made these fires especially difficult to contain, Blanco County Fire Chief Matt McMain told the San Antonio Report Thursday.

“We will continue to work throughout the day and night to try to get [the Smoke Rider Fire] fully contained,” McMain said. McMain added that firefighters from Blanco, Hays and Travis Counties as well as from the Texas A&M Forest Service were working together to contain the Smoke Rider Fire.

About 20 homes in the Blanco area have been evacuated, he said. Preliminary information showed that nine structures have been damaged or destroyed, according to a Blanco County Office of Emergency Management social media post. No injuries have been reported, and the cause of the blaze also is not known.

With historically dry conditions, rashes of wildfires have scorched their way across the state this summer. About 16 active wildfires persisted statewide Thursday, according to Texas A&M Forest Service data.

Walter Flocke, the regional wildland urban interface coordinator for the Texas A&M Forest Service, said the extreme drought conditions are what have made the Smoke Rider Fire especially difficult to contain.

The drought and excessive heat “really creates a super dry vegetation fuel loading which can lead to a fire being very resistant to control,” Flocke said.

The heat itself is also an added challenge for working fire crews, Flocke said. Texas A&M Forest Service firefighters are trained to deal with the heat by taking breaks as needed, and staying as hydrated as possible, Flocke added.