Weather could bring trouble to Hidden Pines fire

SMITHVILLE, Texas— With rain expected to start developing across central Texas, Bastrop County officials say they will keep a watch for erosion problems within the Hidden Pines burn zone.

An example of the worst case scenario can be seen in Bastrop State Park. A small dam and road broke apart when heavy rains hit the area Memorial Day weekend.

With storm clouds now building again— this time a few miles away over the hidden pines burn zone— erosion problems are expected but not another major wash out, according to Clara Beckett, the Bastrop County commissioner.

"No sir, I'm really hopeful this is a beneficial event," Commissioner Beckett said.

County officials are optimistic because the fire did not consume all of the ground cover. There are still green spots within, and just outside of, the 4,500-acre burn zone.

"The burn scar runs from east to west, and so north and south of it we have great vegetation established, so I do not anticipate the erosion levels we had in '11," Beckett said, referring to the 34,000-acre Bastrop Complex fire.

Officials say there are areas at risk for erosion— most located along Cottletown Road and Park Road 1C. Other than installing a few silt screens, there are no major erosion control projects underway.

Many gravel roads are located inside the footprint of the fire. They could get covered by mud or wash out during a long downpour. Over the next 72 hours, county road crews will be keeping a close watch on them.

Dale Cook, who was hired Wednesday to stabilize a small pond, says residents have little time and few options.

"Just deal with it day by day. There is nothing we can do that’s overnight. We can’t do anything between now and when the rains come. There is really not that much that can be accomplished in the short period of time, so mainly get in, get the property cleaned up, and hopefully rebuild," Cook said.

Part of addressing the erosion problem will be dealing with all burned out trees on the Public and Private property. County officials say they are working on a plan right now.

Monday, Bastrop County commissioners will vote to extend the emergency declaration order and will discuss setting up a preliminary debris management plan.

"We have already assessed the number of trees. There are about 1,200 trees in the country ROW, and there's between five-and-6,000 trees on Private Property that can fall into the ROW, and we are going to deal with those one way or another,” Beckett said.

The county will try to get federal money to pay for the tree removal project. A private tree harvesting company may be brought in— as it was done four years ago.

Volunteer tree cutting crews are also being organized. To qualify for that, work property owners will have to register with the county at the Assistance Office in Smithville.