Austin chainsaw strike teams aid with Hurricane Laura cleanup

A TxDOT road crew, one of several in the area, was near Beaumont Friday clearing storm debris.

Another team that drove out from Austin arrived Thursday and was also quickly on the job Friday morning.

"It's tough work, and that's why we send our special crew, these guys have experience in doing this, they know exactly what they are doing, in some cases it’s a dangerous situation, so when people evacuate they are coming this way, we are going that way,” said TxDOT spokesperson Brad Wheelis.

RELATED: Cleanup continues, thousands without power in Orange day after Hurricane Laura

Images provided by TxDOT show how big a job it is cleaning up after hurricanes, from clearing sand off coastal highways to cutting up fallen trees that block roads 70 miles or more inland.

"Our special crews go in, and our assignment is, let's clear the roadways, let’s take care of any signals or signs that are damaged and then assist in any other way we can,” said Wheelis.

The deployment could be a split shift. "Our guys have been told to expect a 7-day deployment, now we have another crew that can go in if need be. If we need to extend their time there, we will certainly do it. Our number one mission is, to get the job done,” said Wheelis.


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Aerial surveys early Friday show there are many areas still inaccessible from the ground. Cutting a path to those cut off is also the job of chainsaw strike teams. "It's called the Texas Interstate Fire Mutual Aid System, or TIFMAS, so it's maintained by the Texas A&M Forest Service,” said spokesperson Erin O'Connor.

Twenty fire departments from across Texas have provided personnel for the chainsaw strike teams. Images of the work being done now provided to FOX 7 were taken by Austin firefighter John McKinney. He along with firemen from Round Rock and Kyle are spending their days, cutting through massive trees knocked down by Hurricane Laura.

"We have 6 saw teams and each team has 5 people on it, for a total of 30 people,” said O’Connor.

The crews are deployed in communities north of Beaumont like Jasper and Newton.  "There are some big trees, but these guys have been training for this, these saw crews are qualified, they practice and train year round, so they will definitely get the job done,” said O’Connor.


With the roads clear, utility crews are able to move in and start restoring power. "They are going to be out there for a few days at least, trying to clear all that debris up,” said O’Connor.

The Forest Service has double duty. Crews are not only in Southeast Texas, but the agency also had teams working four fires Friday in other parts of Texas.

For more on Hurricane Laura, click here.