The wind blew hot and the thick cedar smoke burned the eyes and throats of volunteer firefighters battling a blaze Monday afternoon southeast of Brazos Point.
When they took off their helmets to take a break, the smoke was almost overwhelming. So was the heat. The temperature soared to 106 degrees.
Somervell County firefighters assisted Johnson County on the wild land fire that broke out off of County Road 912. Over 300 acres were burned and three homes and two outbuildings lost.
Volunteer firefighters from Brazos Point, Bono, Rio Vista, Covington, Godley and other communities rushed to the scene. Many of Somervell County’s firefighters are volunteers as well. Some work for pay at other fire departments but still find the time and energy to volunteer at the fire hall in Glen Rose.
At every fire I’ve covered this year - and there have been way too many - volunteer firefighters from all over North Central Texas have answered the call. Make that calls. Despite burn bans and official warnings to take extra care, fires are still breaking out. They’ve been started by tire blowouts, by balers hitting a rock in a pasture and by human carelessness.
As I drove to Ruidoso, N.M., for a vacation last week, I saw more burned areas than ever before. In Palo Pinto County, one of the state's most devastated counties, the wildfires came right up to Interstate 20. Blackened hills and roadsides still smell like smoke.
In New Mexico, some hillsides also stood black and naked except for burnt tree trunks that looked like charred toothpicks. But green patches sprang up where grass was beginning to sprout again. They inspired hope that if the land can recover, so can we.
In Ruidoso, a hotel sign thanked first responders for keeping the fires away from the town.
I met a man from Hamilton who runs a flea market and antique store outside Ruidoso. Earlier this summer wildfires blazed right across the road and the area had to be evacuated.
It all reminded me of home and that our friends in New Mexico - and Arizona and elsewhere - are fighting a common enemy, drought. Ruidoso, at least, has received some rain in recent weeks. It rained every day I was there, with the clouds building up behind the mountains and thunder and rain arriving almost every afternoon before they passed into the valley. I'd forgotten what it felt like to sit on a porch swing and just watch it rain.
This year, especially, reminded me that communities cannot take their volunteer firefighters for granted. They have helped save homes, livestock, pets and, most importantly, people. Their work is important.
An estimated three-quarters of the firefighters in this country are volunteers. Every time they receive a call, they step into harm’s way. Just take a look at the arms of volunteer firefighters sometimes and you may see scars from burns. Some of them pay the ultimate price, dying in the line of fire.
Volunteer fire departments rely on fundraisers - the VFD fish fry has become a rural tradition - grants and donations to survive.
Some of them also have “friends” groups. Please consider becoming a friend and donating to a volunteer fire department today.
And next time you see a firefighter, thank him or her. It’s a miserable job battling blazes in this heat and the best reward for many volunteer firefighters is to hear someone thank them for saving a home and property…or just for being there to answer the call.