Report could soon detail start of Hidden Pines Fire

Progression of fire (Texas A&M Forest Service)
Progression of fire (Texas A&M Forest Service)

BASTROP (KXAN) — The Texas A&M Forest Service could finish a report about the origins of the Hidden Pines Fire by the end of the week, according to Les Rogers, Texas A&M Forest Service Chief Law Enforcement Officer.

Rains helped the crews over the weekend fully contain the fire that burned 4,582 acres and 64 homes, according to the forest service. However, the service is still examining how the fire began. Rogers says investigators were finishing interviews Monday and the investigation was nearing completion.

“There were a lot of people who saw the fire early on.”

“I have been in touch [Monday] with the investigator who is with the Texas A&M Forest Service letting him know that we are available with any information we have, everything from 911 calls, to the first firefighters and first responders on the scene,” said Bastrop County Judge Paul Pape. “I flew over the area in a helicopter and I took some photographs. I’ve sent those to him. So we’re providing all the information we have and we want others to do that too.”

KXAN Investigates requested a similar report on the 2011 Bastrop Complex Fires under the Texas Public Information Act. The records about that fire contain diagrams showing how trees likely fell on power lines, interview summaries, and emergency call logs, along with other information.

“There were a lot of people who saw the fire early on,” said Pape. “There are people who were aware of the fire within minutes after it starting.”

“It started on the Luecke property, but absolutely it was accidental,” said Jeff Ray, the attorney for the Luecke family.

Officials have said the fire started in the area where the “Luecke” name can be seen carved into the landscape on satellite imagery.

“As he was making a wide turn, he looked back and saw a very small circular fire some distance away.”

“The last word I heard from [the investigator] was that he had narrowed it down to two possibilities. One was a farming accident with equipment and the other was an intentional burn,” said Pape.

This is how the attorney described what happened the day the Hidden Pines Fire broke out:”Farm personnel did not start or set any burn pile on fire at any time,” in a statement from the Luecke’s family attorney, Jeff Ray.

The family says at the time of the fire, a tractor operator was operating a John Deere tractor with a Bush Hog rotary cutter (mower) attached. The operator was cutting briar bushes and weeds in the open pasture with the Bush Hog rotary blades, an operation he had performed hundreds of times. As he was making a wide turn, he looked back and saw a very small circular fire some distance away. He immediately drove the tractor and rotary cutter to the fire and attempted to put out the fire by dragging dirt and debris over the fire. He then got a fire extinguisher and attempted to extinguish the fire. He then radioed the ranch office and 911 was called immediately by Barry Walther from the ranch. The tractor operator then went directly to the front gate to allow first responders access to the property and fire zone.

Ray also said the Luecke family is grateful for the work of emergency crews and “distraught over this tragic fire.”

Although the report is nearing completion, there is no official deadline for the report. Judge Pape says he wants to ensure the investigation produces the most accurate conclusion to what caused the fire.

“[The investigator has] as much time as it takes, but I’d hope that we’d have that answer (about the cause of the fire) sometime this week,” said Pape. “I’ve assured [the investigator] that he needs to take as much time as required to get the answer right.”

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