Flooding, fire, newly-created city topped headlines in The Highlander for 2018.



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A wildfire and an historic flood event which washed a way the FM 2900 bridge in Kingsland were among the top 2018 stories in the Marble Falls area. Flooding throughout Burnet and Llano counties in October 2018 submerged several homes including the one pictured here in Channel Oaks, off FM 2147.





By Lew K. Cohn
Managing Editor

Flooding, fire and the loss of the beloved Bluebonnet Belle topped headlines in The Highlander for 2018.

Historic flood event

An "historic flood event" submerged major thoroughfares on Oct. 16 and toppled the Ranch to Market Road 2900 bridge, where the Llano River feeds into Lake LB J in the Llano County portion of Kingsland, forcing residents from waterlogged homes and forcing the Lower Colorado River Authority to open flood control gates at all major dams.

Residents in several communities, including Kingsland, Marble Falls, Meadowlakes, Granite Shoals, Highland Haven and Horseshoe Bay, were evacuated to makeshift shelters as Lake LBJ and Lake Marble Falls swelled with rising water, surpassing flooding levels last seen 21 years ago during October 1997 flooding.

Residents in Meadowlakes and Pecan Valley were especially hard hit close to the lake and many million dollar lakeside homes lining Lake Marble Falls and Lake LBJ found themselves amidst rising water.

A TV crew from an Austin station doing a live remote from a restaurant near the RM 2900 bridge was able to capture footage of the center expanse of the structure buckling under and being swept away by rushing flood water. Fortunately, emergency first responders had blocked off access to the bridge a short time earlier, so there were no casualties reported. The bridge is well-known in the Hill Country for being a central site for the annual Kingsland AquaBoom festival, held every July.

A Llano woman, 59-year-old Rebecca Biddy, lost her life when her car was submerged in floodwater in the city, officials said. She was an employee and caretaker at the Llano Rehabilitation and Nursing Center. It was believed Biddy was driving on her way to work when her car was overwhelmed by flooding from the Llano River.

Biddy's body was found Oct. 17 in her vehicle at a low-water crossing at the intersection of Flag and Sandstone streets after waters had receded, about three blocks from Llano River Lake. Hers was the only documented fatality in Burnet or Llano County, though officials found the body of Junction flood victim Charlotte Moye near Circle Drive near Kingsland on Lake LBJ, three weeks after she disappeared.

At least 10 inches of rain fell in a 24-hour period in the Llano area, sparking flash flood conditions as swift moving runoff rushed down the Llano River into the Highland Lakes. Schools throughout the Hill Country closed and canceled extracurricular activities, including Burnet CISD, Marble Falls ISD, Faith Academy, Marble Falls First Baptist Christian School, Packsaddle Elementary in Kingsland and Kingsland Charter School.

The Texas Department of Transportation issued an emergency contract to rebuild the 2900 bridge, which is expected to be completed this year.

A fiery summer

In July, a rash of wildfires began taxing fire departments in Burnet, Llano, Blanco and Lampasas counties. Dry conditions, lack of precipitation and high temperatures created a perfect incubator for grassland fires to spread.

It started in Blanco County, where some 775 acres burned up in the Smith West Fire along Ranch to Market Road 962 in Round Mountain, as more than 100 personnel reported to battle the blaze.

A short time later, fire spread to County Road 308 in Llano County, consuming more than 1,800 acres. Fortunately, in both cases, no structures were were damaged and there were no reports of serious injury, though a number of firefighters had to be monitored for heat exhaustion as temperatures soared to 107 degrees Fahrenheit.

Then came fires on County Road 108 and County Road 116, the latter of which forced the evacuation of more than 150 homes and closed two major roads as well as Inks Lake State Park. Again, no one was injured or killed and no homes were reported damaged, but emergency shelters were set up at the Burnet Community Center and BCISD bus drivers helped evacuate campers from Indian Springs and transport them to safety.

As the county's fire danger index reached a high of 713 out of 800, Burnet County passed an emergency order banning all outdoor burning, including outdoor welding. Then, in August, another fire threatened 150 Horseshoe Bay residences and burned right up to the hangars at the Horseshoe Bay airport before being contained.

Crash of the Belle

The famed Bluebonnet Belle C47 Skytrain, which assisted in Hurricane Harvey relief efforts and was an integral part of the Highland Lakes Squadron of the Commemorative Air Force, crashed July 21, at Burnet Municipal Airport's Kate Craddock Field in Burnet while attempting to take off for an air show in Wisconsin.

Thirteen people were aboard the Belle, tail number N47HL, headed for the annual Oshkosh Air Show when the plane left the runway shortly after 9 a.m. and crashed before catching fire and eventually exploding. Miraculously, all 13 people aboard the craft survived the crash and made it out of the plane before the explosion.

Video footage of the Belle's takeoff taken and uploaded to Facebook by Matt Gallagher, an Austin-based pilot who was scheduled to take off after the Belle, shows the historic 1944 transport aircraft appear to struggle to get airborne, tilt right and then veer left before digging its left wing into the ground and collapsing upon its landing gear. A second video shows the Belle burning as emergency vehicles respond.
One individual was airlifted to San Antonio Military Medical Center with significant burn injuries, though witnesses at the scene reported that person was able to walk out of the crash site. Seven other individuals were transported to Seton Highland Lakes Hospital in Burnet with minor injuries.

The fire spread as well to grass along the runway. Area fire departments, especially the Burnet Fire Department, which is located next door to the airport, and the Burnet Volunteer Fire Department, responded quickly and were able to extinguish the grass fire after keeping it contained.

The crash is under investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board and the Federal Aviation Administration, which had agents on the ground interviewing passengers the same day. Dave Hargett, a member of the Highland Lakes Squadron, said the Belle was on its way back to 2018 EEA Air Venture Oshkosh air show, the same show where the Belle had engine trouble in 2015.

Other stories which got readers' attention in 2018 include:

• Bertram Police Chief JJ Wilson agreed to resign his position after being indicted on multiple charges, including felony perjury and misdemeanor official oppression, as well as driving while intoxicated and abuse of official capacity stemming from an Oct. 24 accident on RM 1431 east of Marble Falls.

Authorities identified the human skeletal remains found in a remote area of northwest Burnet County as those of a 40-year-old Lufkin woman, Tina Marie Logan, reported missing by her family since April. On Aug. 14, investigators found an abandoned 2005 Mazda Tribute, and following a subsequent K9 and drone search discovered the human skeletal remains in the vicinity.

• Authorities sent a human skull found in the receding Lake Buchanan shoreline Aug. 8 for forensic testing to determine identity and age of the bones. It was found by an individual on a personal watercraft as the recreationist was attempting to dock the watercraft on the shoreline in an area of Poppy's Point on the west side of the lake, just off Ranch Road 261 in Llano County.

• During a special election Dec. 6, Double Horn residents passed a measure by more than 53 percent of the vote to become a General Law Type B municipality, setting into motion a process to change the status of the community from a county subdivision to a municipal-form of government. A 280-acre planned mining operation, adjacent to the Double Horn community between Marble Falls and Spicewood just off Texas 71, prompted a group of residents to petition for an incorporation election.



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