As flames leapt and wind picked up speed, quick responding members of Bandera Fire Rescue and neighboring Pipe Creek Volunteer Fire Department extinguished a Wednesday afternoon wildfire in the Texas hill country before it led to disaster.
Responding to a 911 call placed by this Digital Journal reporter, volunteer fire crews got the jump on Texas' latest wildfire, a blaze in Bandera County which apparently got out of control by a construction crew cutting and welding oilfield pipe where they were building a fence in a mostly-undeveloped subdivision.
Such activity in these conditions requires a spotter, whose responsibility is watching for potential flames, but even with a work crew of three, the fire managed to escape them. Timing, and luck, were on the sides of all parties involved. From a nearby hill, I spotted white smoke, not a good sign in these parts, and after driving close enough to establish direct visual contact with the fire, made the 911 call.
With god beams shining down, the new wildfire crossed the fence line, spreading onto a neighboring ranch. At about this time, fire trucks and their crews arrived, quickly getting the fire under control.
The dispatcher then suggested going to the scene to confirm its activity. Arriving there and discovering the fire was beyond the fence crew’s efforts at containment, another 911 call was made (the construction crew, speaking little English, either did not have a cell phone or were afraid to make the call, the reason at this time is still unclear), and the location confirmed.
One of the workers said the fire started quickly, and began spreading. Three connected garden hoses from a nearby dwelling were no match for the parched conditions, as much of the southern US can attest. Abnormally high winds for weeks on end, for some inexplicable reason, were only around 10 to 15 mph on Wednesday at the beginning of the fire, but with massive amounts of fuel on the ground in the form of dried grasses and shredded cedar trees, the fire continued spreading. .
A team from Bandera Fire Rescue was first on the scene with their brush truck, a fast-attack unit with a 250-gallon water capacity. The team quickly knocked down parts of the fire which had crossed a property line, entering onto a neighboring ranch.
By the time the brush truck depleted its initial supply of water, two VFD units from Pipe Creek arrived, including a 1,500 gallon-capacity tanker truck. It was at about the same time winds began gusting and flames became even higher, but firefighters were already in position for the battle.
Tyler Rich, a volunteer with the Pipe Creek Fire Department, said: “Please watch your fires and please watch your welding,” a reference to the fire which appeared to have started by a fence crew cutting and welding pipes.
The new wildfire, restricted to the valley floor, was unable to reach the surrounding hills.
While dealing with the blaze, a bullet exploded from the heat, likely left in the grass by a careless hunter. Fortunately, no one was hit.
The homeowners. not present during the event, were likely in for a real shock upon their return. Although there were no mature trees around the home which could have suffered damage, three brushy cedars, or trash cedars, located on the east side of the home were lost to the fire which burned about two acres of property.
Speaking with Digital Journal after containment of the blaze, Alex Invrgo, captain with Bandera Fire Rescue and with the department for five years after being in active duty with the Marine Corps, noted the local community’s sense of responsibility during a drought which has blanketed the state for months. “We’ve not had too many brush fires this season, it’s been fairly quiet in that sense.”
Despite the extreme conditions, Invrgo noted the firefighters’ success was due to a quick response: “ Our fast-attack brush truck allows us to get to the scene quick and get these type of fires knocked down.”
The incident was a tribute to our often-overlooked first responders, frequently in the line of danger, yet able to maintain a sense of calm professionalism during times of crisis, and both teams of firefighters provided a text-book example.