Thunderstorms that moved across Texas this weekend have given firefighters a bit of a break — assuming lightning doesn’t touch off any blazes — but a return to hot, dry and dangerous conditions will soon return to the summer forecast.
Brown County firefighters stand prepared.
“Conditions have been just prime for grass fires,” Brown County Precinct 1 Commissioner and Winchell VFD firefighter Steve Adams said over the weekend. “But we’ve been very fortunate in Brown County not to have had too many bad fires. The one at Camp Bowie (June 16) was a big one, and the response was good, but it would have been a big one regardless. They’ve had several major fires in neighboring counties, though. Winchell was called out to help in McCulloch County along with 12 other volunteer fire departments, and they’ve had a couple of big ones in Coleman County.”
Adams credited a dedicated team of volunteer firefighters across the county, the efforts of the Brownwood Fire Department, recent upgrades in equipment for many county departments and public awareness for helping minimize the extent of grass fires this spring and summer.
Adams said he was at a graveside funeral recently, and the winds were blowing at 40 mph. With hot and dry conditions, that makes the chances of a grass fire high.
“It’s the wind that scares me,” Adams said.
“We’ve got a good group of volunteers in the county along with the Brownwood Fire Department,” Adams said. “I suppose they are always looking. Whenever I’m out, I’m constantly looking back at the horizon in case I see smoke.
“Everybody is working together. The response is fast. Everyone is quick to come when help is needed. They take care of business. Many of the volunteer fire departments have beefed up their equipment recently, and they’re in better shape than ever before.”
He said that the volunteer departments have taken advantage of Texas Forest Service grants that pay up to 90 percent of the cost of trucks and other firefighting equipment.
“They still have to come up with that 10 percent, and most of that comes from fund-raisers,” he said.
The cost of responding to fires and ongoing operations of departments must also largely come from fund-raisers and donations.
“We blew a tire on the last call we had,” Adams said. “That’s $200. Then we lost a 20-horse(power) motor on a pump. That’s $1,500. And what does it cost to gear up for a firefighter, not including an air-pack that can be $3,000 to $5,000? The coat, boots, radio and other gear can run $4,000. Then you add the cost of fuel to get to the calls.”
Adams also praised the support firefighters receive from the public — not only in adhering to burn bans and using caution while engaged in activities that can cause fires, but also in directly helping them during a fire.
“We have water and supplies, but we can go through that pretty fast,” Adams said. “Someone always shows up. They seem to always be there. The Red Cross chapter here has got to be one of the best in the state. And lots of business are quick to bring us drinks and refreshments. Fighting these fires can really take it out of you, and you have to stop and recover.”