The ~Texas~ Mustang Project's Blog

Working for better management options and cohabitation through compromise and communication for the American Wild Mustang

The Lone Star State is Brightly Burning…

Posted by Texas Mustang Project on April 18, 2011



The Lone Star State is Brightly Burning… So much so that it can be seen from space. Photo from a NASA satellite. The Rock House fire, which began in Marfa, Texas, became the fastest-moving wildfire to scorch the area in decades.

Yes, my friends, the Lone Star State is burning brightly. I am a Texan. I was born here. I was raised here. I’ve lived here all of my life and if I have anything to say about it, I will die between the Red and Rio Grande. I love this state. I love the birds, the hills, the prairies and – of course – I love the Aggies.

But right now, the state that I love and count myself among the most blessed to be a citizen of is hurting deeply. Her eyes are upon us, but they’ve dried up from all the tears she’s cried. And it breaks my heart to see the devastation all around.

I visited our family’s homeplace this morning. My grandmother and grandfather were given seven acres of land in 1932 as a wedding present to start their lives together, the homeplace. Since then, four generations of Walters’ have been born, raised, and settled there. My mom and dad still live there today. Driving down the dirt road towards the old gate this morning, I found it very difficult to look at all of the smoke in the air, the ashes landing on my truck, and the literally countless burned plantation pines and oak trees along the way. My family’s homeplace is still safe, as are the woods immediately surrounding it. However, our friends and extended family members ten miles north of us were not so lucky. No official reports yet on the severity of the damages except for one vehicle lost. Thankfully, no homes have been damaged, and no one has been injured.

The current wildfire threatening our area, Pipeline No. 204, began Friday and has now reached over 7,500 acres. Reports early this morning stated 75% containment. It began as a result of a flare stack on an oil field location backfiring as it was being lit. The worker said he tried his best to get the flames out before they spread but the brush was so dry that it quickly spread to the surrounding woods.

Loss of Wildlife, Livestock, Livelihoods and Lives

As a result of the Pipeline No. 204 wildfire, over a thousand acres of hay pastures have been lost from an already decreased harvest forecast. Several hundred smaller grazing pastures have been charred beyond their ability to heal within this year. But the most damaging aspect of this fire has been the thousands of acres of natural habitat that have been destroyed.

Our little neck of the woods is very well known for its birds, whitetail deer, and even a few re-introduced black bears. Our ecosystems are some of Mother Nature’s finest – with the exception of the feral hogs and the damages they incur on their own. We call it the Big Thicket.

The National Parks Service folks call it the Big Thicket National Preserve. Other people have called it “an American ark and the biological crossroads of North America” because of how many species co-exist here.  It is home to approximately 1,300 species of tress, shrubs, vines, and grasses, about 60 mammal species, almost 90 reptile amphibian species, more than 1,800 invertebrate species, almost 100 fish species, and 175 bird species. We are uncertain at this time what the total acreage of the Big Thicket as a whole has been ransacked by wildfire, what the extent of the wildlife population devastation is, and we are uncertain how many more will fall in addition to those already gone.

For decades on end, the Texas Forest Service would burn the underbrush in the Big Thicket with “prescribed burns”, thus reducing the amount of fuel available for wildfires such as these. Prescribed burns were very well controlled, almost never got out of hand, and were actually very small in size. Then, around 10 years ago, some lame-brained idiot decided that prescribed burning of underbrush created too much air pollution and therefore should no longer be allowed. Unfortunately for us, this same lame-brained idiot was an elected official with power. He got his way; Texas got screwed.

And now, Texas firefighters have responded to over 7,800 wildfires burning 1,528,714 acres across the Lone Star State. More than 240 homes have been destroyed. A 21 year veteran firefighter has lost his life, and another Texas firefighter is in critical condition with severe burns after fighting an estimated 60,000-acre fire in the northern Panhandle.

Our lost brother, Gregory M. Simmons, 51, was a volunteer with the Eastland Fire Department for the past 11 years after serving for 10 years in the Sachse Fire Department. He and his wife, Carrie, managed an Eastland business and have two daughters, Kateland and Karley. Simmons gave his life battling one of five fires that flared in Eastland County on Friday. Eastland Fire Chief Phillip Arther said, “Greg was a seasoned veteran and invaluable member of the department and community, and we are all at a loss for words at this time.” Five other volunteer firefighters were hospitalized with non life-threatening injuries. There are no official reports released currently on the injured firefighter from the northern Panhandle.

Presently, the State of Texas cannot tally the total of cattle, horses, pets and wildlife lost to this season’s wildfires. There are literally too many deaths of livestock to even begin to add them all together. Worse, even thought the total is unknown at this time, it is increasing daily with the wildfires continuing to burn across the state. Between 400,000 and 500,000 cattle in West Texas have been injured by wildfires but are reported to have survived at this time.

By itself, the now infamous Rock House wildfire in West Texas has killed at least 151 head of cattle and nine horses while it laid waste to thousands of acres of grasslands – a precious resource for the region’s ranchers. The fire advanced 30 miles in a matter of hours, overtaking the town of Fort Davis and the ranches beyond it, racing through Presidio and Jeff Davis counties so quickly that no one could predict where it would strike next. Some ranchers in the area lost up to 95 percent of their land to the flames.

Joe Parker, Jr., a rancher in Clay County and president of the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association (TSCRA) said in a statement last week, “Many ranchers across parts of West Texas have been completely devastated by the raging wildfires. Thousands of grazing acres have burned, cattle have been lost, and hundreds of miles of fences have disappeared. The flood of support from Texas ranchers, the industry, and state and local officials has been remarkable. We here in the cattle industry know what it means to work together to help each other out, which is why the continued effort to support those affected by the fires is so important.”(See donation information and links at the end of this post.)

Help?

Just in the past seven days, Texas Forest Service (TFS) has responded to 95 fires burning 722,891 acres resulting in the loss of 151 homes and structures. Gusty winds, low relative humidity and thick vegetation are causing firefighters from across the state to face extreme fire behavior on dozens of wildfires. A total of 197 Texas counties are currently reporting burn bans.

Gov. Rick Perry requested a Major Disaster Declaration for the entire state in which 252 Texas counties were identified as “presently threatened or impacted by wildfires.” (Texas only has 254 counties total.) The governor issued an Emergency Disaster Proclamation on Dec. 21, 2010, which was renewed on Jan. 19, February 17, March 18 and April 15. This proclamation remains in effect as extreme wildfire conditions persist. Currently, Texas is not forecasted to receive any substantial rainfall for the next month.

“Texas is thankful to the brave men and women across the state who are battling these fires on the front lines and providing support to wildfire victims,” said Gov. Perry. “As wildfires continue to rage across our state, Texas is reaching its capacity to respond to these emergencies and is in need of federal assistance. I urge President Obama to approve our request quickly so Texans can continue receiving the resources and support they need as wildfires remain an ongoing threat.”

In response to the physical and emotional toll experienced by local firefighters, Texas has initiated the Texas Intrastate Fire Mutual Aid System. TIFMAS is a network of Texas fire departments willing to provide emergency resources to neighboring communities during threat of disaster.  Fire prevention and response resources from local fire departments across Texas have been deployed across the state to fight fires in counties including Callahan, Eastland, Garza, Kent, Midland, Moore, Palo Pinto, Pecos, Presidio, Stephens, Sterling and Tom Green counties. Resources are deployed and adjust location according to the changing wildfire threat and local needs. At last count, there are approximately 1,250 firefighting personnel being managed by the TFS from 34 states assigned to Texas fires. This figure does not include Volunteer Fire Department responders.

Additional resources responding to the extreme fire danger include:

  • Federal air assets including one DC-10 to Midland and two C-130s operating out of Abilene and Del Rio to assist with fire suppression efforts;
  • Texas Forest Service – more than 750 personnel and 22 air assets deployed to multiple fires;
  • Texas Military Forces – Four Blackhawk helicopters remain on alert, two each in San Antonio and Austin, for rapid deployment to assist with fire suppression efforts;
  • Texas Department of Transportation has provided bulldozers and other resources in affected areas;
  • Texas Department of Public Safety Highway Patrol and Texas Division of Emergency Management Regional Liaison Officers have been deployed.

Additionally, volunteer organizations including the American Red Cross, Salvation Army and Southern Baptist Disaster Relief have been providing resources, supplies and shelter to first responders and fire victims in the impacted areas. The State Operations Center has been partially activated and continues to work closely with the Texas Forest Service, National Weather Service and other state and local entities to monitor this severe wildfire threat.

In an effort to slow the spread of the flames, ground crews already have been utilizing some air resources – specifically helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft including single engine air tankers (SEATs) – for air reconnaissance and water and fire retardant drops. Now, four MAFFs (Modular Airborne FireFighting Systems) and a DC-10 airtanker are arriving to aid in suppression efforts. Congress established the MAFFS program in the early 1970s to provide military support for civilian air tankers. Each MAFFS unit – which consists of a 3,000 gallon tank – is installed on C-130 aircraft, essentially turning it into a modified airtanker that can drop a swath of retardant one-fourth of a mile long and 60 feet wide. The DC-10 is a modified McDonnell Douglas aircraft that can hold more than 11,000 gallons of retardant. The plane can be filled in eight minutes and its computerized, gravity-fed water dump system can release its entire load in just eight seconds. It creates a swath three-quarters of a mile long and 300 feet wide.

Only YOU Can Prevent Forest Fires!

Smokey the Bear has been spreading his message to school children this for many decades now. I remember his visit to my own elementary school and how much I enjoyed the big teddy bear. I “sol-em-leeeee” promised along with all of my classmates to never play with matches and always help prevent forest fires. It seems such a shame that Smokey’s lovable character has been so horribly let down. The wildfire that came perilously close to my uncle’s home this past week is a case in point.

Before its eventual containment at about 9 p.m. Wednesday, the “Post Oak” wildfire burned 796 acres of a 15-year-old pine tree plantation. Originally, investigators believed the blaze was started by logging equipment being used by loggers in the area. Then shortly after noon on Thursday, TFS investigators confirmed suspicion of arson based on evidence findings.  Obviously, the nature of the evidence is not being released at this time due to the impending investigation, but Melanie Spradling with TFS says anyone who has information about the fire should call 800-364-3470.

Typically, arson is responsible less than 1 in 300 of the wildland fires each year. Don Poovey, Assistant Chief of Law Enforcement for the Texas Forest Service, said he is bothered by the rising numbers of possible arson cases his office has been called in to investigate. “In my 30-odd years with the forest service, I’ve never seen conditions as bad as this,” Poovey said. “Arson tends to be cyclical, with more cases some years than others, and we are definitely seeing an increase in cases this year,” he said. Since January, Poovey said there have been 15 arson cases in Texas and currently, TFS law enforcement officers are investigating seven suspicious fires — which have burned more than 70,000 acres — in Garza County.

In March, an observant resident and a little luck led to the arrest of a Palo Pinto County man, who has been charged with nine counts of arson. After being picked up by sheriff’s deputies, Harold Buchanan, 52, confessed to setting 11 fires around the county while drunk. He was only charged with nine counts because he couldn’t remember the exact location of two of the fires he allegedly started. Ironically, the truck he was driving when apprehended was borrowed so he could make a court appearance.

But WHY?!

When a home is lost to a fire, the resulting emotional fallout can be catastrophic. The first question always asked is simply, “Why?” Chief Poovey said the motivation for starting fires varies, but typically it comes down to people being drunk, or simple boredom. These are hardly reasons to satisfy the injustices of arson. However, more and more we see these reasons in arson headlines. “Sometimes we catch people and they admit they did it because they just didn’t have anything better to do,” Poovey said. In a few isolated cases, he said, arsonists turned out to be younger, less experienced members of volunteer fire departments. “Its boredom, again, and some of these new guys want to ‘squirt some wet stuff on some red stuff’ so they set a little fire to see some action,” he said.

Other times, the reasoning behind arson is related to mental health issues. Last October, a 17 year old male started a fire in Cougar Country, a subdivision here in my small town of Buna, Texas. “He said that fire calms him down,” Jasper County Sheriff Mitchell Newman said of the suspect. The fire was made of multiple sets and burned about 60 acres, traveling west across to Tyler County and along FM 1943. The area of was blocked off and some residents were asked to leave their homes while eight different fire departments including the Buna Fire Department as well as Evadale, Kirbyville, Roganville, Tri-Community, Jasper, Newton and the Devil’s Pocket Fire Department all fought to contain the blaze. The fire was contained in about 12 hours. No homes were lost and no one was injured thanks to their quick responses. The suspect was eventually charged with 2nd degree arson, a felony charge, arraigned, and a $5,000 bond was set. Court dates are pending.

When I was 18 years old, my home was lost to arson. The reasons were actually a combination of the ones listed above. To this day, I still don’t fully comprehend the driving force behind a person’s desire to steal from others. I understand what I have to in order to cope in a healthy manner. However, to this day, I remain – not angry, (we’ll say) but “miffed” at the person who committed the crime. I lost almost everything I owned. I lost almost all of the treasures from my childhood. There wasn’t much, but it meant a lot to me.

This place means a lot to me. My friends who live in other states often called me “Texas” because of my accent and my love of the Lone Star State. So many aspects of what Texas represents are embodied in the land, the families, the horses, the cows, the trucks, and so many other pieces of the puzzle. In the end, they all come down to one thing: Honor.

Texas made me who I am today. I hope I have honored Texas with this post, the information it contains, and a final plea from a small town Texas girl: Please, don’t dishonor Texas. Obey burn bans, regardless of how “small” you think the fire will be, your self-confidence that you’ll be able to put it out before it gets bad, or whatever other excuses available to get around the ban. When environmental conditions are severe enough, burn bans are enacted for a reason – because ANY spark or flame of ANY size or content has ENORMOUS potential to become a WILDFIRE! Put It Out, Stupid!

And as always, stay safe!

Tracie Lynn Thompson

The following are wildfire prevention tips from the Texas Forest Service:

  • Obey outdoor burning bans. Don’t burn trash or debris when conditions are dry or windy. Unsafe burning of leaves, brush, household trash and other debris is the No. 1 cause of wildfires in Texas.
  • Keep lawn mowers and agricultural equipment in proper working condition and avoid rocks and other materials which might cause a spark.
  • To report suspicious activities, call the Arson Hotline at (888) 501-3850. If possible, safely obtain an accurate description of the person and/or vehicle (including the license number) before calling the hotline.
  • Humans cause more than 90 percent of all wildfires. Do not weld or cut without a spotter, a water source and a shovel.

Additional Links & Resources:

To Donate:

Ranchers with emergency hay needs or those who wish to donate supplies are encouraged to contact the following Livestock Supply Points:

Stonewall County Livestock Supply Point
Location: Stonewall County Fair Grounds, Hwy 380, Aspermont, TX
POC: Jason Miller, County Extension Agent
Office: (940) 989-3510 
Email: jbmiller@ag.tamu.edu

Jeff Davis County Livestock Supply Point
Location: Red Barn Ranch, 1 mile South of Ft. Davis
POC: Logan Boswell, County Extension Agent
Office: (432) 837-6207 
Email: lboswell@tamu.edu 

The Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association (TSCRA) is encouraging Texans who wish to make financial donations to ranchers affected by the recent Texas wildfires to do so through the Texas Department of Agriculture’s Star of Texas Agriculture Relief (STAR) fund. The STAR fund will use financial donations to help purchase hay and fencing supplies for ranchers in the affected areas. Donations are tax deductible. Donations can be made at www.texasagriculture.gov or by calling 512-475-1615.

Outdoor Burn Bans April 18, 2011

Keetch-Byram Drought Index April 18, 2011

Forecast Fire Danger Map April 18, 2011

Daily Fire Danger Map April 17, 2011


 

 

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7 Responses to “The Lone Star State is Brightly Burning…”

  1. Jan said

    so srry about texas sounds like our so called wild fires we get here in calif – usually started by someone as we hardly ever have lightning storms that would start a massive fire – lost of wild life and natural habitat are the two big losers in calif while we may lose homes frm people building up there in the mountains where the fires are

  2. Puller Lanigan said

    Dear TracieLynn,

    I am so sorry to hear of the your trials in Texas. I am sad to hear of the cattle and horse losses and hay losses. Initially, I thought, ‘well, hay will grow back quickly if the areas are burned’ but without water, that’s a bad situation. I hope irrigation systems haven’t suffered much and at least hay can be recovered. I hope you, your family and horses stay safe. Wildlife that is able to get out of the area safely will come back, no worries about that. I’ve seen deer return to construction sites looking for home. That’s ‘their’ home too and they don’t have the luxury of moving on to new territory generally.

    Thoughts and prayers are with you at this time.

  3. Hi folks,

    Just wanted tell everyone thank you so much for all of the thoughts, wishes and prayers. They really do help all of us through times like these. Also, I wanted to let everyone know that this post was about getting the word out there. I have been amazed at how many people here in my very area who were not aware of what was going on 20 or 30 miles away. They’d see the ashes that had fallen on their parked cars and trucks and just think they’d need to stop by the carwash. I’ve been totally shocked at how much people just don’t think, and they don’t ask questions. Its like they’re just on autopilot 24/7. In light of this, I figured I would help open a few eyes, hence, the post.
    It would be really great if we could spread this information as far a wide as possible. Please feel free to post or cross post where appropriate and by all means, please stay safe.

    Thx! ~TL

  4. Lisa LeBlanc said

    I apologize for the upper-scale corniness but – God Bless Texas and The Mighty T; you and the Great State will be in my prayers and pleas until delivered.

  5. air hog said

    I hardly leave a response, but I looked at a few of the responses
    on The Lone Star State is Brightly Burning… | The ~Texas~ Mustang Project’s Blog. I actually do have a couple of questions for you if it’s okay. Is it simply me or do some of these responses look like they are coming from brain dead visitors? 😛 And, if you are writing at other online social sites, I would like to keep up with you. Would you make a list of every one of all your social sites like your linkedin profile, Facebook page or twitter feed?

    • LOL! No, they are not brain dead… It’s simply that to fully grasp a situation such as our’s was here in Texas during this time meant that you had to be directly related to the situation or be in it yourself. God forbid that anyone should have to endure the tragedies that befell so many across our fine state, but…
      It’s almost like that saying, “I completely understand.” Well, no, you don’t. It is most often said as a means of comforting someone so that they feel their plight is not one experienced by them alone. If someone else has dealt with the same thing, then it makes it a little easier psychologically for the person afflicted by the plight to deal with in the end.
      I post quite a bit on Facebook, not so much on twitter. (Facebook is just easier for my little brain dead self LOL!) You can find my badge on the left hand column of this website.
      Thanks so much for stopping by and hope to see you again when we come back up to full speed in 2013!!!
      As always, stay safe!
      ~TL

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