Firefighters used a helicopter on Saturday to put out smoldering “hot spots” in the two fires that swept across Somervell and Bosque counties on Friday, affecting an estimated 6,200 acres to 6,500 acres.
Somervell County firefighters received several calls on Saturday to remove trees that had fallen across the road or to check out smoldering areas that alarmed residents already spooked by the fires’ close proximity. In Somervell County, the fires were contained in an area between County Road 2007 on the south, FM 56 on the east, FM 202 and northward and State Highway 144 on the west.
Mark McGuire, the Texas Forest Service’s regional fire coordinator who is based in Granbury, was on the scene Saturday to assess the fires and damage. He said that several hot spots were addressed and that about 80 firefighters from the service and area fire departments were involved in fighting the blazes.
Dewey Ratliff, emergency management coordinator for Bosque County, said that the fire began on a large ranch in that county when a “prescribed burn,” meaning one that is supposed to be closely watched by a burn manager with a nearby accessible water supply, flared up during Friday’s high winds and began burning out of control.
“It had fingers all over the place,” Ratliff said.
Prescribed burns are allowed even when counties have burn bans in place. Bosque County, unlike Somervell, did not have a burn ban in effect when the fires began, but the county judge ordered one to begin on Friday. At their next meeting on Monday, Bosque County Commissioners are expected to order a burn ban in effect until spring rains arrive to relieve extremely dry and dangerous fire hazard conditions.
Families evacuated from The Oaks and Hill Country Estates residential developments along FM 202 and those who live along County Road 2007 returned to their homes Saturday after the two fires were contained.
But with winds still blowing and hot spots still burning, the fire threat is not over, authorities warned. This reporter spotted several flame-ups in the charred cedar along CR 2007 and curls of smoke could be seen rising from the cedar-covered hills.
Somervell County firefighters responded Saturday afternoon to remove part of a burned cedar that crashed into CR 2007, partially blocking the road. They used chainsaws to break up the large branches as the helicopter contracted by the Forest Service to extinguish the hot spots buzzed overhead.
The massive blaze that began in Bosque County Friday around noon jumped County Road 2007 into Somervell County several hours later and headed north, while a brush fire on FM 202 that was thought to be contained continued to burn as darkness fell. The cause of that smaller fire remains under investigation.
Dozens of residents in The Oaks development and Hill Country Estates along FM 202, as well as property owners along CR 2007, were evacuated Friday afternoon as emergency sirens blared. It was a recommended evacuation, not a mandatory one, but most people who live in the area complied.
About 18 people reported in to the American Red Cross shelter set up at Glen Rose High School. But they arranged to stay with family and friends Friday night rather than sleep at the school. First Baptist Church also opened its doors and prepared to cook a hot meal and offer shelter to those who needed it.
One firefighter from Bosque County was treated for an injured hand at Glen Rose Medical Center, but his injuries were not severe and he later was released, Ratliff said.
Miraculously, no homes were reported burned even though it looked as if the southern half of the county was on fire. Ratliff said one barn was consumed by flames, but he didn’t know its exact location.
On Friday smoke obscured visibility south of Glen Rose and clouds of white, black and gray smoke could be seen 20 miles away.
County Ford Mike Ford emerged from a “lockdown” in the Emergency Office of Command set up at the Somervell County Sheriff’s Office to give the Reporter a status report of the crisis situation. Both Justices of the Peace, county commissioners, Mayor Pro Tem Johnny Martin, City Superintendent Ronald Bruce, Glen Rose Medical Center Chief Executive Gary Marks and Glen Rose ISD Superintendent Wayne Rotan were part of the planning and logistical coordination effort. Emergency Management Coordinator and County Fire Marshall Dwayne Griffin was out of the state when the fires broke out.
City crews worked until 11:30 p.m. Friday night driving through the thick brush and digging a U-shaped trench to help contain the fire.
County Commissioner John Curtis, whose precinct includes the area where the fires burned, was out on the scene throughout Friday afternoon, dispatching updates to the command center. He and this reporter watched as the fire raced toward Somervell County and jumped CR 2007 (see “Reporter’s Notebook” for a firsthand account of chasing a racing fire).
“Close to 100 homes remain in jeopardy” in The Oaks and Hill Country Estates and along CR 2007, Ford said late Friday afternoon. The FM 202 fire had surrounded a home, but firefighters, aided by a Texas Forest Service helicopter that carried water from a stock pond across the road and dumped it from the air, saved it.
The situation grew tense and emotional as Somervell County Sheriff’s Office deputies closed CR 2007 and residents who were trying to retrieve cars and other belongings were turned back.
“We’ve got to get our car,” one resident told a deputy.
“I’m sorry, sir, I can’t let you in,” the deputy responded. “They’re evacuating everyone now on 2007.”
A teenaged girl wept as she and her mother tried to arrange to get her horse, Molly, out of the area. They were waiting on friends to bring a trailer as smoke engulfed their neighborhood.
The first call about the fires came in to Somervell County authorities around 1:15 p.m. Friday. Ford declared a local emergency, which puts the county in position to qualify for grants and state assistance. The Texas Department of Public Safety and Texas Forest Service quickly responded, as well as fire departments from Somervell and Bosque counties, including Walnut Springs, Brazos Point, Iredell, Whitney, Peoria and Clifton. Hood County sent an ambulance. Air Evac took up some fire officials to do some fire spotting as well.
McGuire and another Forest Service official had appeared before the Somervell County Commissioners Court just two weeks ago to warn of the high dangers of fires because of the abundance of dry wood, low humidity and likelihood of high winds. The commissioners immediately voted unanimously to order a 90-day burn ban.
Please continue to check the Reporter’s Web site for updates as they develop.