Notes from the Peanut Gallery

Thursday, January 31, 2008

One heck of a fire

BVFD and Val Verde County Rural Volunteer Fire Department members spent all day on the fire today. They were just now headed back and, bang, BVFD had two tires on one of their trucks blow.

No reported injuries or structure damage. A guesstimated 500 acres burned between yesterday and today and it's quite possible that the fire will spark back up in the next day or so. Let's hope it doesn't!

Cotulla was calling for help from VVCRVFD and BVFD for a raging blaze in their area. BVFD doesn't have the resources to help with a fire like that, unfortunately. Our trucks are in desperate need of maintenance and the City of Brackettville and Kinney County seem unable to help financially.

The Cotulla fire was bad enough that: ...officials closed Interstate 35 through Cotulla at about 3:30 p.m. because blowing smoke from brush and grass fires made driving difficult. Both directions of a four-mile segment were shut down, according to the Texas Department of Transportation. Source --

Sunny, Gusty, and Smokey

Today's weather in Brackettville:

Relative Humidity: 8%
Wind: 320° (NW) at 43mph
Gusts: 51mph

Is it any wonder that yesterday evening's grass fire started up again today? Yup, BVFD is out there on the same fire. Will report more when I know more.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Big thanks to the Val Verde County Rural Volunteer Fire Department!

This grassfire was on FM 334, north of Brackettville. To the best of BVFD's knowledge, the fire was simply an accident and no one is sure of the cause. Certainly no one has yet mentioned noticing any evidence of an attempt at a controlled burn.
It's so dry out here, fires can spark up quite easily. A vehicle's hot catalytic converter can spark a fire in dry grasses. Farm equipment can set off a blaze in the blink of an eye. Sometimes grassfires are started by people travelling through the property on foot who may start a fire for warmth and/or cooking.

I noticed a deer blind when I went out to shoot these photos and wonder if it's possible that a hunter may have accidentally started this fire. But there is no way to tell.
BVFD was called for this fire around 5:30 p.m. and Val Verde County Rural Volunteer Fire Department was on standby. I'm guessing at the time because I forgot to look at the clock when the call came over the radio. I left to go and shoot the fire somewhere around 6, I think. This photo was taken just a few miles from the turn into the property where the fire was.

The fire is somewhat wide spread and not an easy one to contain. It seemed very patchy, probably because sparks DO fly. The fire was probably jumping all over the place out there. Last I heard at about 7:30 p.m. they were calling for VVCRFD's tanker truck (full of water). You can't fight a fire without water and this fire is 15 miles from town. That's a long drive to go fill up your truck reservoirs. I believe BVFD's brush trucks only hold about 300 gallons each (they desperately need new brush trucks). On a grassfire like this, BVFD spends their water very carefully as 300 gallons of water can be expended, completely, from the tanks in under five minutes. It's a good thing this fire happened today because tomorrow we're under a wind advisory.

These photos don't show how widespread the fire was. In order to keep out of the way I couldn't roam around to shoot it from very many different angles.

Above is VVCRVFD Chief Jerry Rust and Pat Rust (driving). Please someone correct me if I have Pat's name wrong.

This is one of Val Verde's trucks. Notice all the thick brush and cactus. This country is full of cactus and thorns, big and small. It's hell on fire department brush trucks. Every call out in the boondocks means damage to the trucks.

The fire is still burning, I left when the sun got too low for me to see my way through the brush anymore. I never did find BVFD, but I know we had two trucks out there. I was trying my best to stay upwind and out of the way and didn't bother any of Val Verde's to ask where BVFD was. It didn't help that there is zero cell phone service on most of FM 334. Even if I'd wanted to bother BVFD Fire Chief Leo Luna with a phone call to find out his location, I couldn't have.

Follow Up: By approximately 10:30 p.m. BVFD trucks had been gassed up and returned to the station and Val Verde County Rural Volunteer Fire Department, was on their way back home with their two trucks and their tanker. Thank you Val Verde!

Monday, January 28, 2008

Burn Bans don't apply to everyone

This is what can happen when you think you know better than the Texas Forest Service about Burn Bans. The owner of the Kinney County property pictured in this series of photos (just click them to enlarge them) decided late yesterday afternoon to burn a little patch of his land despite the burn ban. His fire got out of control and threatened farms and ranches on every side of his property. It was literally within feet of one of the fire department member's family's property. It was right across the road from a very large and active farm in the county.

In Texas you can have a controlled burn on your property if you will allow the state to help you. It's free! But not during a burn ban. The reason is because it's too dangerous. If this landowner would have had just a little patience he could have had all the help he wanted with his controlled burn with very little risk to his property or that of his neighbors. But, no, like so many farmers and ranchers everywhere he decided he was experienced enough and smart enough to organize his own controlled burn and this is the result.

Instead of burning a tiny sliver of land on his property as he intended, he instead burned at least half or more of his property. No structures were damaged. The land will pop right back up from this fire. Ultimately this fire will be a help to his property. He'll probably have to replace some fencing. But he's very lucky that the Brackettville Volunteer Fire Department was able to come out and get the fire under control before it spread to other properties where it could easily have destroyed crops, homes, structures, vehicles, livestock, or even people.
Burn bans DO apply to everyone and with good reason. Please, if you must burn, just wait until the burn ban is lifted. The state will help you. It's free. And it's oh so much safer.

Above: Just this narrow strip of caliche separated the property with the uncontrolled "controlled" fire and the working ranch next to it. Sparks can cross a caliche road as easy as you please.

Below: This two lane road was the only thing in between a large, local, working farm and the raging grassfire a stone's throw away. Thousands of dollars worth of equipment (just out of shot) were at risk not to mention the property itself.

Lucky for this landowner, Kinney County law enforcement doesn't have the man power to enforce burn bans. This landowner will not be fined unless one of his neighbors chooses to press charges for endangering their property. In any other county with law enforcement that has the time and man (or woman) power, this landowner would have had a hefty fine filed against him. As it stands, there will be no consequences to this landowner for his actions. For this reason many Brackettville residents and Kinney County landowners burn whenever it suits them. Thankfully, they are few. Most people are smart enough to know how dangerous this is. But it only takes one fire on the right day to destroy more than just weeds, brush, and a few thousand feet of mesquite fencing. A dry enough day when the winds are just right and a fire like this will be truly devastating.