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Wildfire threatens property, endangered toads


Photo of endangered Houston Toads. Courtesy Texas State University.
Photo of endangered Houston Toads. Courtesy Texas State University.

Jill Colton, staff writer

September 8, 2011 — Wildfires that have torn through Bastrop County, a rural area east of Austin, Texas, have severely damaged a historic state park containing an endangered species of toad.

Officials are unsure of the how much damage the fire has brought to the toad's population.
Officials are unsure of the how much damage the fire has brought to the toad's population.

According to officials, the Bastrop State Park covers over 2,400 hectares of land and based on satellite imagery, all but 40 hectares were scorched by the massive fire.

“There are still trees, but a lot of them are blackened and almost all of the undergrowth has been burned up,” said Mike Cox of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.

Due to the environmental devastation, a lot of the Houston Toad habitat was severely impacted by the raging fire.

Some hot spots continue to burn and because of this officials haven't been able to do any biological work to see how the population has faired.

“Certainly we're concerned,” Cox says. “The serious drought going on here has already had an adverse impact because of the diminishing water supply -- the earth is drying up -- the fire is not a good thing for them,” he adds.

Big clouds of smoke continue to linger.
Big clouds of smoke continue to linger.

The park is a well-known “final stronghold” of the endangered Houston Toad -- the first amphibian to be granted protection under the 1973 Endangered Species Act.

The Bastrop County Complex fire has been burning since Sunday. It has caused major destruction to a historic state park on the same property. The 14 structures on the grounds include campground buildings and a historic sawmill that is part of American folklore.

Firefighters have been on the front lines battling the flames. They managed to bombard the buildings with water and fire retardant from the air late Tuesday night. Cox called their work a “heroic” effort, but it's unclear how severe the damage is.

Although “the situation looks much better than it did,” strong gusts associated with a cold front marched through the park on Thursday. The wind helped fan the embers, resulting in another outbreak.

Meanwhile, the county has also lost some 1,400 homes -- nearly 5,000 people were forced to evacuate the premises earlier this week.

“This makes it by far the most devastating fire in modern Texas history.”

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