After several days of fighting the blaze that broke out last Thursday near County Road 1008, authorities on Monday declared the fire contained and urged residents to stay vigilant in preventing more fires from breaking out during this period of extreme heat and dry weather.
Authorities estimated 445 acres were scorched in the long and narrow blaze that raced through the northern county near the Somervell-Hood county line. No homes were destroyed and no injuries were reported.
Anxious owners of homes and ranches in the fire's path watched last weekend as Forest Service helicopters dropped water on hot spots that continued flaring up in the dry brush and planes sprayed reddish flame retardant to keep the fire from spreading.
Tres and Virginia Riley, owners of Tres Changos Ranch, opened their property to first responders who needed a place to view the blaze and to set up a makeshift command center. They also set out coolers of drinks, bought food and welcomed the first responders who needed a place to take a break and rehydrate and cool down.
"They told us 'thank you,' but we were thanking them," Virginia said. "We can't thank them enough."
Their property was not burned, but their neighbors lost hundreds of acres to the flames.
The fire began with a lightning strike a week ago Sunday on the Engstrom property, authorities said. Firefighters checked multiple times to see that it was extinguished. However, an underground root apparently continued smoldering and over several days of intense heat and low humidity, it erupted into flames on Thursday.
A Code Red alert was activated for an area within five miles. Precautionary and voluntary evacuations were carried out in the Paluxy and HIll City areas. That evening the Texas Forest Service arrived with two bulldozers to cut fire lines and paths through the heavy brush. By 2:30 a.m. Friday the fire had been stopped and no active flamers were visible.
However, as winds kicked up on Friday and Saturday, firefighters battled hot spots.
"It's like fighting a war," Tres Riley said as helicopters dipped water out of a stock pond and put out one hot spot, only to have another one ignite. "One minute you're winning it, then it keeps popping up."
In all, it took two heavy helicopters, two light helicopters, a plane, two Texas Forest Service field units — including bulldozers and fire engines - 100 firefighters from the Forest Service, a tanker from the U.S. Forest Service, nine units from Hood County, eight units from Somervell County and 250 firefighters on the ground to put out the blaze, said Dwayne Griffin, Somervell County's fire marshal and emergency management coordinator.
Alan Steel, the property manager at Engstrom, used his personal bulldozer to cut a fire line, Griffin added.
"He did a lot for us and we really appreciate it," Griffin said.
He also praised Somervell County's neighboring fire and sheriff departments for their valuable assistances.
"Great job by our fire department and I cannot say enough about Hood County," Griffin added. "Our neighbors have been here the whole time. Thank you to all the firefighters that have been here."
Brian Fine, Hood County's fire marshall and emergency management coordinator, also gave a big "thank you" to Somervell County firefighters who "worked as hard as anyone and make a difference in not losing homes."
City continues interlocal agreement wth county for fire marshal services
Griffin appeared before the Glen Rose City Council on Monday evening to ask members if they wanted to continue the interlocal agreement to have the county continue to provide fire marshal services.
He also said that during the Big Trickle Fire in March, so many volunteers and people wanted to provide food and donate water to the fire department that his office has decided to set up a volunteer center and standard operating procedures for future major disasters such as tornadoes, floods and massive fires.
Right now, the county office is looking at the Expo Center as a volunteer center, with First Baptist Church as a secondary location.
When activated during a major emergency, volunteers would come to the center and be given assignments to work with first responders in the field, Griffin told the council.
"It would help us keep track of who brings in what and where it goes," Griffin said.
He has identified two people to lead the volunteer center, Max Bly and Peter Gruber. There will be a Red Team and a White Team, Griffin added.
"One would work for 12 hours and relieve the other team and they would work for 12 hours," Griffin said. "This would only be activated in the event of a major disaster."
The volunteer center was not activated during the most recent CR 1008 fire. The center will be scaled to the size of the response needed, Griffin added.
"We might have only one person or we might have 200 man the center," he said.
Council members voted unanimously to continue the interlocal agreement with Somervell County for fire marshal services.
County officials 'did right thing' in banning fireworks
Earlier in the day, at the Somervell County Commissioners Court meeting, Commissioner Lloyd Wirt praised citizens for helping to prevent fires. County Attorney Ron Hankins said commissioners made a wise decision to ban all fireworks during the July 4 weekend. Some area counties that did not ban fireworks reported multiple fires that weekend.
"Somervell County did exactly what should be done," Hankins said. "The county commissioners did what is right, even though fireworks business owners were not happy."
The only fireworks display that commissioners allowed was the community-wide event held at Wheeler Branch Reservoir and sponsored by the Glen Rose/Somervell County Chamber of Commerce. Carried out by a professional fireworks show, the event went smoothly.
Mike Dooley, manager of the Somervell County Expo Center and Ampitheatre, also noted that the county has has problems in past years with people shooting off fireworks in the Ampitheatre parking lot. This year the lot was opened for people who wanted to watch the fireworks show and there were no problems, Dooley said.