|Trinity Standard - Local News
Copyright 2011 - Polk County Publishing Company
Only ‘hot spots’ left in huge Bearing Fire
Trinity Standard -
GROVETON – The Bearing Fire was no longer spreading this week and only a few “hot spots” remained after the massive wildfire consumed over 23,000 acres of timberlands in Trinity and Polk Counties. “They’ve shut down the command post in Centerville and the Texas Forest Service folks that remain have relocated to the forest service office in Lufkin,” Trinity County Judge Doug Page said this week. Page said a local firefighter drove through the fire zone early this week to check out the area and reported finding a few “hot spots” such as burning stumps or downed trees. Page said the fire no longer appears to be spreading, although TFS fire personnel are continuing to monitor the situation and area volunteer fire departments are on standby. As of Monday, June 27, Page said they were listing the fire as 97 percent contained. He also noted in a report to Trinity County commissioners on Monday that the damage to structures was not as large as first reported. “They had been saying that two residences and a number of camp houses were destroyed by the fire. Once they were actually able to get into that area after the smoke had cleared, they found that only one unoccupied mobile home and six camp houses were destroyed,” Page reported. “If this had to happen in Trinity County, it could not have occurred in a better place in terms of loss of homes,” Page said. “It involved all open timberland.” Another bright spot in an otherwise very dark event was that there were no significant injuries reported as a result of the fire. “I really appreciate the cooperation and support we received from everyone during the fire. The volunteer firefighters worked well with the state and national firefighters and members of the community were out in force to provide water to those out on the line,” he said. So much water was donated during the days of high-90s to 100-plus degree weather that Page said a surplus developed. The donated water that remains will be divided among the local volunteer fire departments for their use at future events. Economic impact During the special meeting of the county commissioners court Monday, Page presented a report from TFS regarding the economic impact of the fire, which has been classified as the largest in East Texas history. The report said the total stumpage value of timber destroyed ranges from $12.8 to $18.3 million, assuming a tree mortality rate of 70-100 percent. The total volume of timber lost ranges from 21.4 million cubic feet to 30.6 million cubic feet. “This lost volume includes enough wood to have built nearly 8,000 two-thousand square foot homes,” the TFS report said. “In all, the lost timber volume could have been used to produce forest products such as lumber, plywood, oriented strand board and paper and paperboard products worth a total of $243.5 million. “Such level of forest industry economic activity could have supported a total economic activity in East Texas of $421.7 million,” the report said. TFS officials noted the short-term effect of the fire on timber markets could be a drop in prices if any significant salvage occurs, although they noted salvaging significant timber from the fire zone is unlikely. “In the long-run, timber markets could be affected due to the loss of standing inventory,” they said. The reported noted most of the damage from the Bearing Fire was in Trinity County, where forest industries play a major economic role. The value of timber ranks first among the top agricultural commodities and the wood-based industry is the largest manufacturing sector in the county, Forest industries directly contributed $48 million of industry output to the county’s economy in 2007, employing 190 people with a payroll of $7.6 million. In terms of the environmental impact of the fire, the TFS report noted carbon stored in the forest was released into the atmosphere, as were other gases and particulate emissions, all of which could affect the health of area residents. They also said the East Texas forest plays a major role in removing carbon from the atmosphere, providing clean water, preventing soil erosion and providing habitat for wildlife. A fire this size “has the potential to alter the forest’s ability to perform these functions effectively,” the report added. The largest fire in East Texas history began on Friday, June 17, when a pickup pulling a stock trailer along Highway 287 in western Polk County drove off the road and paved shoulder into the grass. An overheated wheel bearing on the trailer came into contact with the extremely dry roadside vegetation and a fire erupted. Page said he happened to be driving west on the highway toward Groveton when he came upon the incident, Several other motorists had stopped to help but the fire had “taken off” in the dry grass and the few people present were unable to contain it. “The by time we got a fire extinguisher there, it was too late,” Page said. The fire quickly moved to the north and west into Trinity County, destroying grass, underbrush and trees and it moved. On Sunday, June 19, residents of Helmic and Griffin Ranch roads were evacuated but were allowed to return home after only a few hours. The fire remained south of the Apple Springs and Trevat communities and east of Highway 94.