2 new fires threaten traffic visibility off Texas 73; Port Arthur fire chief talks containment

Published 12:30 pm Friday, November 3, 2023

The potential for visibility issues while traveling still exists as two large wildfires burn in land off Texas 73.

Port Arthur Fire Chief Greg Benson said one of the fires is behind Veolia Environmental Services and the other is east of the facility but still along Texas 73.

The heavy wild land fire, Benson said, started at 4 p.m. Thursday and firefighters were able to knock off a good portion of the blaze, though at the same time smoke came across the highway.

Subscribe to our free email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

Benson said he contacted the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office to be prepared in case visibility dropped like it did a week ago.

Last week, a section of Texas 73 was closed in both directions because of heavy smoke and multiple crashes. Fog was also believed to be a factor in the low visibility.

The above mentioned fire impacted approximately 13,000 acres of land, Benson said, and the current fires are near those areas.

But fire needs fuel and the fires are in the unburned areas. Currently there is no estimated acreage size for the ongoing fires but an aerial assessment was done and there are two large areas of hot spots and other smaller areas smoldering but are not hot spots, he said.

As for the cause of the fires, that’s something Benson can’t answer.

“The first thing is mitigating he fire so it doesn’t get bad again,” he said. “Wild land fires are very difficult to investigate. In many cases, unless you actually see somebody do something or admit, it’s hard to identify how it started.”

There has not been any lightning recently, which could lead to a human cause, but that’s still unknown.

The area has seen many acres of land burned by fire since the summer. While the current fires are not near a roadway, there is still a lot of unburned land between the fire and the road. Wind direction also factors into how firefighters deal with the blazes.

Right now, they are taking a proactive approach as opposed to a reactive approach.

The fires in August near Sabine Pass actually approached the roadway and in some areas, cross the road, he said, while describing how embers can float and affect other areas.

There are challenges to fighting wild land fires because some areas have no road. Luckily, there are some gravel roads to give access to some areas.

The firefighters may, at some point, opt for state assistance with water drops via helicopter, Benson said. But this would depend on the severity.

PAFD hae assistance on Thursday from Jefferson County Emergency Service District No. 4, the Hamshire Volunteer Fire Department and Orange County ESD No. 1.