Although charred tree trunks and rubble still scar the landscape on the outskirts of Zephyr, county emergency management officials rest easy knowing they were tested and passed.
One week removed from a massive grassfire incident, which prompted the evacuation of an entire community with roaring flames nearing a dynamite plant, the offices of Brown County’s emergency manager and the area Salvation Army seem much different than a week ago.
“It was a real eye-opener, knowing this was not just a fire with the dynamite and all that jazz,” Brownwood Salvation Army Director Stacy Tennison said. “It was the people we knew. There were a lot of emotions and fears that we did not let get in the way. We just got in there and did what we needed to do. We found out, yeah, we really are prepared.”
During the fire the Salvation Army provided support for evacuated residents and firefighters battling the massive blaze. With the evacuation lasting only a few hours before Zephyr residents were given the OK to return to their homes, the Salvation Army turned its attention to the firefighters, providing donated resources to aid in the battle that took nearly a week to finally quell.
“We have a lot of wonderful people, a wonderful staff, and that is our rock,” Tennison said. “On top of that, we have wonderful volunteers on our disaster team and our board willing to step up. We had so much help and people on standby. It was nice to know we could handle it. Some people don’t work well when they are in an unknown, scary situation like this.”
Tennison said the fire tested Brown County’s Salvation Army and its county emergency management officials, it also tested the limits of the Salvation Army’s emergency regional response as a whole. With much of the supplies, materials and manpower needed to aid in a sustained evacuation coming from its regional office near Dallas and Fort Worth, Tennison believed the Zephyr fire helped her organization accurately gauge how it will perform in case of a much larger man-made or natural disaster.
“We were waiting for the word to go. We keep stuff on hand and have teams on standby to go and get stuff,” Tennison said. “We also have a big warehouse in Arlington that is just for disasters and they sent an 18-wheeler with supplies as soon as we contacted them. We had a team that went out to Florida and three or four teams that went out for the hurricane. We have teams that go all over, it’s not just Brown County.”
While Tennison worked to preserve the welfare of Zephyr citizens, Brown County Emergency Management Coordinator Mechail Cox oversaw controlling a blaze that scorched hundreds of acres as it tore through rural, drought stricken areas. Once an evacuation was ordered, her department put out an alert through its Code Red system, which alerts residents of any dangers from an oncoming weather or man-made disaster.
“We wanted to make sure everyone was out and in safe hands,” Cox said. “…We put out a Code Red notice to everyone in Zephyr,” Cox said. “For those not signed up or did not get it, just to make sure, everybody went door to door to tell everybody to leave. The fire department was not able to be on the fire at that time. It was deemed unsafe to be there so they were assisting and getting everyone out. The sheriff’s department, and the other organizations that were there, whoever could was there knocking on doors to let everyone know.”
Cox feels the Zephyr fire is a clear example of why people need to sign up for the free Code Red alert system and many Brown County municipal websites have links to download the Code Red app or sign up for alerts. The system has been available through the Brown County website for seven years.
“It’s great for everyone to get signed up on that, just in case something like this does happen. We can get in touch with everybody. Also, it alerts you to bad weather,” Cox said. “… You always try to be prepared for these (situations). Of course, things come up that you don’t anticipate and you try and adjust to handle it as best as possible. All of the departments handled everything great and worked together. We had other community assistance and it was great. The community also came together, helped where they could and gave donations. It went really well and everybody stood together and did what they needed to do.”