Orange County judge, fire chief talk massive response to 600-acre fire

Published 2:27 pm Monday, September 11, 2023

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UPDATE: Orange County authorities asked area residents to “be aware there will be heavy smoke in the area (Monday) and if you do not live in the area, please avoid it due to the heavy fire vehicle traffic.”

-original story-

Numerous agencies and many dozens of Orange County firefighters have battled and are battling a blaze that descended on the region from Jasper County, temporarily displacing local residents from their homes over the weekend.

Orange County Emergency Services District No. 1 Fire Chief Robert Smith said he believes all of the ESDs within Orange County responded.

He described the fire as burning north of Vidor and Pine Forest, pretty much at the county line.

Dubbed the Gist Road fire, the blaze started in Jasper County and came across into Orange County.

“I had one of my lieutenants in here talking to me, and he said there were close to 100 people out there (Sunday), plus we have state and federal assets out there, also,” Smith said.

Firefighters were able to deploy a fire break, where they use bulldozers and take out all the vegetation to the dirt, creating a path wide enough that officials feel the fire would not cross or threaten existing homes.

The weekend’s fire was estimated at reaching 600 acres.

Smith said the last fire he remembers reaching that size was in 2000, when Orange County responders fought a blaze that reached more than 1,000 acres.

Orange County Judge John Gothia said it is good to see support from all across the region. Those responders, along with local folks, did a really good job jumping on the fire, he said.

More than 100 Orange County residents were asked to evacuate due to the blaze that temporarily shut down of the region’s electrical grid.

Going into his eighth year serving on the Orange County Court, Gothia noted this is his first year responding to extreme dry conditions after years of emergency management dealing with heavy storm and hurricane conditions.

“It’s really dry out there, and the problem is when people get a little bit of rain, they think things are OK,” Gothia said. “The fire ban is not lifted. People will set something on fire and it gets out of hand. That is what is happening. Our entire region is still under a fire ban.

“Don’t flick your cigarette out the window when driving down the highway. That is how a lot of these things are starting, as well. We have to be under extra caution because these things get away from us and run pretty hard.”

The judge complimented the forest service for executing an excellent fire response that includes airplane water drops.

“If it wasn’t for that, we would never be able to contain one of these that gets that big,” he said.

As of 12:15 p.m. Monday, the Orange County Office of Emergency Management said the Gist Road fire in the area of FM 2802/Texla Road is 40-50 percent contained at 400-500 acres.

Fire crews are continuing a ground and air assault to suppress the hotspots.

The mandatory evacuation was lifted at 1 a.m. Monday.

“Homeowners may return home, but be aware of lingering smoke in the area,” an Emergency Management release indicated. “If you do not live in the area, please avoid it due to heavy fire vehicle traffic.”
According to Emergency Management officials, containment is not measured of how much fire is extinguished but rather how much of a perimeter line crews established around the fire’s path of spread.