GRIMES COUNTY, Texas – Residents forced to evacuate wildfire-ravaged portions of Grimes County could do little Tuesday but sit and wait for word about their homes and businesses.
The Texas Forest Service said the fire, which prompted the evacuation of more than 1,800 homes and businesses, was 35 percent contained Tuesday.
Investigators believe it was sparked on Sunday by a backyard barbecue grill.
"Don’t know if it’s negligence," Sheriff Donald Sowell said. "We’ll look into that later."
Since the fire started, the TFS said it has burned 5,800 acres of land and destroyed 30 homes and 20 sheds.
But specifics on what homes and sheds were burned were hard to come by Tuesday for many evacuees.
Some residents of the Pinebrook subdivision thought they might be able to return home Tuesday, but they later found out they could have another two or three days of waiting ahead.
"It’s tough, but you gotta have hope," evacuee Richard Volesky said.
Volesky and some of his neighbors were waiting outside the subdivision, hoping to get back in.
He said, besides the heat, the worst part was the wait.
"The waiting, not knowing what’s going on. They won’t tell you nothing, really," he said.
Other Pinebrook evacuees gathered at a local convenience store for supplies, support and comfort.
"The last I heard, they were dumping water on my front yard," evacuee Liz Leverett said. "So, we’ve got the clothes on our back and that’s it."
"It’s pretty scary, knowing you could lose everything, you know?" evacuee Ginger Simmons said.
Firefighters, on the other hand, had other concerns. They said windy conditions could help the fire leap-frog across the county, as it did on Sunday and Monday, even as they made some progress in containing it.
They were hoping for a little help from Mother Nature, too, but they didn’t get it.
There were a few sprinkles Tuesday, but nothing significant enough to make a difference for crews battling the blaze.
"The amounts that we’re getting right now – it’s not going to help," Lee Bentley of the TFS said.
Meanwhile, at least one evacuee from the Millstone subdivision returned to the area Tuesday and saw just what the firefighters have been dealing with.
Joseph Fletcher said his mother’s trailer somehow survived the blaze, but other neighbors weren’t so lucky.
"It was just unstoppable. It was unbelievable. Uncontrollable. Out of everybody’s hands," he said. "Never seen anything like it in my life. It was – the best I can describe it is, it was an F3, F4 tornado made of fire."
As of Tuesday, officials hadn’t ordered any other evacuations. But they said residents who live in the vicinity of the fire should be ready to leave their homes at a moment’s notice.
Shelters were set up at Navasota High School and the First Baptist Church of Magnolia.
The evacuated areas included the Shadow Lakes Subdivision; Pine Brook Subdivision; all homes along CR 202; residences on CR 201, Urbanosky Lane and adjoining roadways; homes along CR 302 from FM 1774 to FM 362; areas on FM 632 northward to CR 306; homes on CR 306 eastward to Spur 234 and northward to Highway 105; residences on Highway 105 eastward to FM 1774; areas to the east and west of CR 304, to the north of CR 302, to the east of CR 362, to the south of CR 306, to the west of CR 1774 and to the south of Highway 105.
As of Tuesday, there were reports of at least one civilian injury. That person was pinned between two fire trucks Sunday and transported to a medical facility in Grimes County.
If you'd like to help the fire victims, you can donate to the "Fire Hurts, Red Cross Helps" campaign at houstonredcross.org. Non-monetary donations can be dropped off at the First Baptist Church in Navasota from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily.
Those who need to shelter livestock can do so at Mid Tex Livestock on Highway 90 South. Call John Adkins at 979-482-2018 or Bernard Lee at 936-825-5295 for more information.
The Houston SPCA set up a temporary shelter for fire victims' pets at the Navasota Auction Barn on Highway 90.