A Texas National Guard commander confirmed earlier reports that Monday’s large grass fire on Camp Bowie was ignited by a ricocheting tracer round on a machine gun firing range.
“The tracer apparently ricocheted into the brush and it was still hot enough that it caught the grass on fire,” Col. Robert Crow, who commands Texas Army National Guard training centers, said by phone from Camp Mabry in Austin.
The fire burned 700 acres of pasture and brush, mostly on Camp Bowie’s eastern edge, officials have said.
Crow said soldiers were firing at paper targets at a range of 25 meters. One out of every five rounds was a tracer, which has a phosphorus-based chemical on the tip, Crow said.
“What happened was, it just flared up,” Crow said. “It just flared up real quickly.”
Monday’s fire threat was given as “medium” by the Texas Forest Service, Crow said. “Typically once it gets to high (threat) condition they suspend the firing of tracers and pyrotechnics,” he said.
The Camp Bowie soldiers were following standard procedures Monday in having a firefighting detail standing by during the weapons training, Crow said. The Guardsman firefighters quickly realized they could not stop the fire and called the Brownwood Fire Department for help, he said.
Brownwood Fire Marshal Buddy Preston said 18 volunteer fire departments from Brown and other counties responded to the fire. The Texas Forest Service deployed water-dumping helicopters and other equipment.
“What saved everything was the helicopters,” Preston said.
Two volunteer firefighters — one from Early and one from Brookesmith — were checked out at Brownwood Regional Medical Center for heat-related problems, Preston said.