Huge grass fire burning at wildlife refuge in Jefferson County

JEFFERSON COUNTY, Texas - If you live in Galveston and Jefferson counties and are wondering what that foul smell is, officials tell us it's a grass fire.

That huge fire is still burning at a wildlife refuge in Jefferson County. The thick smoke is causing problems for folks in Galveston County.

Steve Stiba knew something was in the air when he went out to walk his dogs early Friday morning. He could see and smell smoke that caused his eyes and nose to burn.

Within minutes he and more than 20,000 other Texas City residents received a phone call from Texas City Emergency Management informing them that a massive marsh fire in Jefferson County was pushing smoke into Galveston County.

"It was super thick, early about nine, as I was driving to Galveston you could barely see, it looked like fog," said Stiba.

The fire started Thursday night in the McFadden National Wildlife Refuge near High Island. The US Fish & Wildlife Department is working to contain the fire and hoped to have it under control by Friday evening.

"It's between 150-200 acres, but it is in an area that it could get up to about 500,000 acres," said Jim Stockie with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Stockie told Local 2 that reinforcements were being called in to fight the massive fire, including a helicopter from southeast Louisiana that would help drop water on the flames. Stockie said no structures of wildlife were being threatened.

"Fires are a natural part of this marsh community so it wouldn't be a devastating impact," said Stockie.  "As a matter of fact it would probably help the marsh to some degree. It renews itself after a fire."

By late Friday afternoon the smoke was starting to dissipate in Galveston County where the Emergency Management Coordinator, Bruce Clawson, monitored the situation throughout the day.

"The main complaint we got is what is going on. We're a large industrial city. We let them know it's a large grass fire and the wind was bringing it across the city," said Clawson.

Officials stressed that no evacuations were ordered and there was no threat to the public.

"If you have respiratory problems, you would stay indoors, but that's common sense that the individual needs to exercise for themselves," said Clawson.

The US Fish & Wildlife Department says the fire is under investigation and that since there was no lightning in the area, it is believed to be human-caused.

PHOTOS: Wildfire in Jefferson County

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