$400 Million Impact Seen from East Texas Wildfires

Wildfires that devastated East and Southeast Texas last week not only destroyed homes but also millions of cubic feet of forest timber, authorities said.

According to the Texas Forest Service, a fire in Grimes County that burned 5,280 acres, 30 homes and three businesses and dozens of homes caused $2.5 million to $3.6 million in timber losses. The loss of the 4.7 million to 6.7 million cubic feet of timber was just the beginning of the economic loss, said Chris Edgar, forest research analyst for the forest service.

"The lost timber volume could have been used to produce forest products such as lumber, plywood and paper products worth a total of $53.5 million," he said. "That level of forest industry economic activity could have supported a total economic activity in East Texas of $92.7 million."

Then there was the fire in Trinity and Polk counties described by the forest service as the largest in East Texas history. The epic fire burned more than 23,000 acres of timber, itself worth $12.8 million to $18.3 million, the forest service said, but that timber could have produced more than $243 million in forest products.

As of Sunday, the forest service said it was working on 15 fires that had burned more than 143,000 acres. Most of the fires were largely contained.

With dozens of people left homeless by the Grimes County fire, the biggest problem they faced was a lack of homeowners' insurance, The Eagle of Bryan-College Station reported in Sunday's edition.

"It's a poor county," said Eva Shepard, whose sister Barbara Adams lost her family's home and possessions in the fire. Buildings containing antiques, family photographs, a tractor, a convertible and a truck were destroyed with all they contained, Adams said.

"We are totally flattened. It's gone," Adams said.

County Judge Betty Shiflett declared Grimes County a disaster area last week. She told KTRK-TV of Houston that she had a special meeting of the county's commissioners on Sunday to discuss the need for a disaster declaration from Gov. Rick Perry.

Shiflett said her disaster declaration will allow the county to receive money from the state government, but a declaration from the state would open the door to the county receiving federal assistance.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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