ZEPHYR — Round-the-clock firefighting efforts continued Tuesday at the site of the 1,658-acre wildfire near Zephyr, which began Monday and prompted the evacuation of the entire community as the fire threatened the Orica explosives plant.
Some evacuees were allowed to return to their homes late Monday night, and all evacuations had been lifted as of 9:30 a.m. Tuesday, Texas Forest Service public information officer Clay Bales said. He could not say when the fire will be totally out.
The Salvation Army opened as a shelter for those who were not allowed back home Monday night.
The fire, which began shortly after 2 p.m. at a residence on County Road 259 and burned within a mile of the Zephyr community, was 80 percent contained as of 8:30 p.m. Tuesday.
Multiple agencies including the forest service and units with the Texas Intrastate Fire Mutual Aid System have been fighting the fire. A total of 10 aircraft — two scout planes, two heavy tankers, three small tankers, two large helicopters and a small helicopter — have been part of the firefighting efforts, Bales said.
The fire passed through the Orica property on CR 259 Monday night but did not affect the explosives, Bales said.
Concerns over the explosives prompted the mandatory evacuation Monday night of all residents and personnel within a mile of the Orica plant, and that included firefighting personnel, Bales said. Emergency personnel returned to fighting the fire after plant officials determined the plant was safe, he said.
Two hundred structures were threatened by the fire Monday, and the number had fallen to 25 as of Tuesday afternoon, Bales said.
“We plan to fight the fire very aggressively today,” Bales said at the Zephyr Volunteer Fire Department, which served as a command center and a place for firefighters to eat and drink.
Community members brought a steady supply of food and beverages to the Zephyr Fire Department and the locations.
“They’re grateful for all the firemen to come save our community, and it shows that the community, by donating, believes in our fire department,” Zephyr firefighter Samantha Spearman said.
“We live in a really good county. Our emergency management coordinator takes care of us.”
Spearman, who was at the fire site Monday, described conditions at the fire as “hot, dry and windy.”
Brown County Emergency Management Coordinator Mechail Cox said she’s made sure firefighters have all the resources they need including food, beverages and gasoline.
Cox said her son was one of the evacuees Monday night and stayed with other family members until he was allowed to return home around 8 p.m.
Cox said she understood that about six residents who were not allowed to return home Monday night stayed at the Salvation Army.
The Zephyr fire was one of several events Monday afternoon that scrambled emergency responders. First responders were at the site of a major accident on U.S. Highway 377 near Blanket when smoke could be seen from the Zephyr fire in the south and from another large fire in the northern part of the county.
Brownwood Police Chief Terry Nichols posted on social media his appreciation for the job emergency dispatchers did.
“I want to give a huge public thank you and commendation to our Public Safety Communications team for the work they did during the fires on Monday,” Nichols posted. “These folks (three of them plus the communications manager who came in off-duty to help out) coordinated all of the chaos in Brown County with multiple fires, traffic accidents, evacuations, and just the normal 911 police/fire/EMS calls.
“These are true professionals who work behind the scenes day in and day out to provide emergency services to Brown County. Thank you to these unsung heroes.”