Wildfires rage around area but Houston County clear . . . so far
Houston County Courier
As the Courier went to press, cooler temperatures arrived and welcome rain was falling.By Lynda Jones Managing Editor Houston County Courier and Greg Peak Managing Editor Trinity Standard A wildfire that has destroyed more than 20,000 acres in nearby Polk and Trinity Counties does not pose a threat to Houston County, David Lamb, Houston County fire marshal reported Tuesday morning. As of Tuesday morning, the Bearing Fire, which has burned 20,200 acres since it started Friday, was 60 percent contained according to the Texas Forest Service. According to the TFS June 21 update, two homes and six cabins have been destroyed and dozens have been evacuated. Some Houston County residents have property in the Bearing Fire area. “We’re far enough away (from the wildfires in Trinity and Tyler Counties). We still have plenty of time to evacuate,” Lamb said, if conditions were to change and the fires were to spread here. The fire in northeastern Trinity County is dubbed the Bearing Fire because the blaze started June 17 when the driver of a vehicle pulling a trailer along U.S. 287 in western Polk County pulled off the road. When an overheated wheel bearing came in contact with extremely dry grass, flames quickly began to spread. The blaze formed several “fingers” as it moved through the grass and underbrush as well as treetop to treetop. Tuesday morning the fire remained south of Apple Springs. “Officially, it is now the largest wildfire ever experienced in East Texas,” John Warner of the Texas Forest Service (TFS) said Tuesday. “That’s not a good record to have, but it is what it is.” Warner, TFS’s on-scene public information officer, said as many as 12 different volunteer fire departments sent equipment and more than 100 men to help battle the flames. In addition, TFS firefighters and out-of-state volunteers – some mounted on up to 10 bulldozers – joined the ground action. By air, as many as four helicopters with large water buckets dangling beneath them “bombed” the fire daily in an effort to bring it under control. The helicopters made staggered runs to drop their water loads and then would fly to area ponds to refill their buckets. “The most important thing is that we have had no injuries,” Warner said. “The firefighters are working in extreme heat, but we have had many community volunteers coming out to bring them water. “I can’t say enough about the volunteers – both from the fire departments and the community at large. There is no way we could handle this type of fire without their help and support,” the TFS official said. Northeast of Crockett, in Jasper County, the Powerline Fire has burned 3,500 acres and was 75 percent contained, according to the TFS report Tuesday. The fire was burning just south of Lake Sam Rayburn Dam, threatening 500 homes. A fire that caused the evacuation of Rockland in Tyler County has burned 500 acres 13 miles north of Woodville was 90 percent contained Tuesday. Eight Texas Intrastate Fire Mutual Aid System (TIFMAS) engines responded Monday night from the Houston area, in addition to TFS resources, to assist with a 3,000-acre fire burning near Huntsville in Walker County (Midway-Cowboy Church area). That fire was 25 percent contained Tuesday morning, according to TFS. The fire was reported to be burning on both sides of IH45 with crowning in the timber. A Type II Incident Management Team (IMT) was requested by TFS to assist with the Bearing and Powerline (Jasper County) wildfires. Also, four National Guard Blackhawk helicopters and two Chinooks were activated. A Type II incident is defined as “an extended response, complex incident requiring most of the IMT command and general staff along with their functional staff. The incident will extend into multiple operational periods requiring written action plans, planning meetings and briefings. Response operations may involve several hundred personnel,” according to TFS. A Type I incident would be the most severe and complex type of incident. “We’re getting a lot of calls from folks from Houston and the Dallas metroplex areas asking about their property. All we can tell them for sure is that right now the roads are open and if they want to check on their property, they can,” a TFS official said of the Bearing Fire area. Warner noted that TFS officials are advising those going into the area to check first with the fire command center located at the Little Centerville school on Highway 94 between Groveton and Apple Springs. “Depending on what the fire does, roads can be closed for public safety concerns and before anyone drives back into that area, they should check with the command center first,” Warner said. In addition to visiting the command center in person, as of Tuesday those seeking information can contact them by calling (936) 642-2163, (936) 642-3193 or (936) 642-1870 and dialing in extension 237 when prompted. The numbers are for the Little Centerville school and fire officials have been assigned an extension. Lamb noted that, so far, Houston County has been fortunate to avoid dangerous wildfires, and he wants to keep it that way. Lamb stressed the need for Houston County residents to adhere to the county-wide burn ban imposed by the commissioners court last week. Citations will be written for any burn ban violators. “I guarantee they’ll be written,” Lamb said. The trees, grass, root systems and ground are so dry in the county, the small amount of rain predicted for the area is not going to be enough to alleviate the fire danger. “Even if we get some rain, whatever we get is going to get sucked right up (into the ground),” he explained. With the Fourth of July a little more than a week away, the danger of fireworks are a concern. “We can’t stop people from shooting them (fireworks) off,” Lamb said, “but my recommendation is, don’t.” For those who decide to shoot off fireworks, Lamb said they should use “extreme caution”. The Spring Creek Country Club has voluntarily cancelled its traditional fireworks display. A decision about fireworks on Houston County Lake at Mize Island has not been announced. As of press time, the fireworks display scheduled at the Crockett Civic Center Photo courtesy Trinity Standard This helicopter is using a large bucket to dump water on the Bearing Fire in Trinity County. is still on the calendar according to Crockett City Administrator Ron Duncan. “We’re waiting to see if we get enough rain,” he said. “Right now conditions are extremely hazardous. People need to know that it is very easy for a fire to start and very hard to get it under control once it does,” Warner said. “When barbecuing, people need to do it on concrete or gravel and have water readily available just in case,” Warner said. On Monday night, the TFS hosted a “town hall” meeting at the Little Centerville school to meet with residents impacted by the Bearing Fire. During that meeting, officials with the National Incident Management Organization (NIMO) spoke to about 450 people. Curtis Heaton, NIMO commander of the Bearing Fire effort, noted that while the Bearing Fire was 40 percent contained Monday night, that could rapidly change if wind conditions worsened. “This is the worst drought since l917 and it has created challenges to know exactly how to handle this situation,” he said. Heaton was asked how much longer it was going to take to extinguish the fire and replied, “If everything holds perhaps from five to seven days.” The “mop up” will be ongoing for sometime after that. TFS reported it responded to 24 new fires for 47,818 acres, including six new large fires on Monday, June 20. Since fire season started on Nov. 15, 2010, TFS and area fire departments have responded to 12,362 fires that have burned 3,080,013 acres.