A discarded cigarette was the most likely cause of the large grass fire east of Early Friday afternoon that came within 10 feet of some homes, sending huge clouds of smoke into the air and requiring heroic efforts from dozens of firefighters who were hampered by heat, rough terrain and high, shifting winds.
Brownwood Fire Marshal Buddy Preston provided those details Saturday morning about the fire about five miles east of Early off U.S. Highway 377 that burned at least 74 acres — probably closer to 100 acres, Preston said — and prompted multiple evacuations. The only structure lost was a shed, and there were no injuries, Preston said.
Firefighters from all departments in the county and from departments in other counties, as well as the Texas A&M Forest Service, based in Brownwood, responded to the fire, which began around 3:15 p.m. on County Road 348. The fire jumped the railroad tracks and jumped Highway 377, which was closed from both direction, Preston said.
At one point, firefighters had to abandon the fire and set up around houses and structures to protect them. Firefighters began winning the battle after the Forest Service brought in bulldozers and cut fire lines, Preston said.
The fire was contained around 7:30 p.m., Preston said.
“We just had a huge response, and everybody worked together for a common goal and got it under control,” Preston said. He estimated that 50 firefighters responded.
He said while he could not say for certain a discarded cigarette caused the fire, a property owner told him he was working in his shop, put his cigarette on the floor and went for a drink, then heard a pop. Preston said there were no other likely causes.
Law enforcement officials went to multiple homes and told residents to evacuate, Preston said.