A fast-moving wildfire north of Huntsville sparked evacuations and highway closures Friday evening as it rapidly grew to more than 4,250 acres and firefighters scrambled to contain the largest active wildfire in Texas.
Walker County officials requested assistance from the Texas A&M Forest Service as the Game Preserve Fire spread along drought-stricken terrain near FM 247, prompting officials to close the road and evacuate the rural area.
No injuries or lost structures were reported, but the forest service described the fire’s behavior as “high to extreme” and at one point Interstate 45 was temporarily closed. Officials said 40 percent of the fire was contained as of Saturday evening.
“As far as we can tell, only one deer camp burned and no residences were lost,” the Crabb’s Prairie Volunteer Fire Department wrote in a Facebook post Saturday. “Texas Forest Service is bringing in a lot more resources today to the area.”
Tamara Perry, who owns 20 acres of land on Cedar Ridge west of the fire, said she and her husband had to evacuate their property when the winds suddenly shifted Friday night and the fire headed their way.
“I was going out to feed the barn cat and all of the sudden, in that instant, the moon went away,” Perry said. “By the time I fed the cat and was walking back, it sounded like it was raining at our shop but it was embers falling everywhere. Smoke just billowed in.
“We hadn’t smelled any smoke all day. We could see it. But all of the sudden it was thick.”
Perry said they evacuated at midnight, came home around 6 a.m., and then evacuated again Saturday morning. They had to leave behind their chickens and the feral barn cat, who Perry calls “Boo Ratley.” Her husband had just finished building their new home last year on their property.
“Hopefully, it stills stands when we’re through all this,” she said.
Friday afternoon, Gov. Greg Abbott authorized an air tanker base in Austin to assist firefighters in Walker County. The base is equipped to handle aircraft used to drop fire retardant during wildfires.
Abbott also added 10 counties Friday to the state’s wildfire disaster declaration: Collin, Delta, Dickens, Fisher, Hopkins, Kinney, Lamar, Roberts, Sutton and Wood counties.
There are 216 counties in the governor’s declaration now, covering 85 percent of the state.
The Texas A&M Forest Service says hot and dry conditions will continue to increase the potential for wildfires through Labor Day weekend. More than 98 percent of the state is undergoing some level of drought or abnormal drying, according to the governor’s office. With triple-digit temperatures forecast throughout the state, the fire threat appears to be growing.
The forest service and local fire departments have responded to more than 2,125 wildfires burning nearly 90,000 acres since June 28, according to the governor’s office.
The cause of the Game Preserve Fire hasn’t yet been determined. The blaze started near Indian Camp Road, about nine miles northwest of Huntsville, according to an incident report published by the forest service. Fueled by easterly winds and dry vegetation, the wildfire quickly burned a wide swath of grass, pine and yaupon toward Interstate 45.
Plumes of smoke could be seen for miles.
“Evacuations have been ordered for all residents within three miles of Lost Indian Camp Road,” the forest service said. “Residents being evacuated should take all people and pets, personal items, prescriptions, important papers, and priceless items with them. Have enough of these necessary items to be out of the area for 24 to 48 hours.”