Notes from the Peanut Gallery

Friday, February 29, 2008

Texas Forest Service News

Local and state fire resources remain on alert

Proactive attack saves lives and homes

COLLEGE STATION, Texas – When Texas Forest Service (TFS) and the National Weather Service began forecasting extreme fire weather danger earlier this week, TFS wasted no time activating preparedness measures and pre-positioning firefighting personnel and equipment to areas of the state predicted to be at highest risk. As it turns out, this preparation paid off.

The highest fire danger this year occurred on Monday (Feb. 25), and fire behavior was extreme. All available Texas Forest Service resources were committed to the fire fighting effort, including resources from east Texas and all available aircraft from the Texas Air National Guard. At the height of the fight, 1,000 gallon water drops from helitankers did little to slow advancing flame fronts. Tactics switched from offensive suppression efforts to the direct protection of homes and other assets on that day.

T. K. Kennedy, a helicopter manager in Abilene, summarized the day’s events, “We dropped 38,000 gallons of water today, mostly in people’s backyards.”

“Five communities were evacuated,” said James Hull, state forester and director of TFS. “Luckily, everyone was able to return to their homes that night.”

The severity of this year’s fire season is one of the worst seasons on record. Since January 2008, fires have consumed over 500,000 acres and destroyed 300 structures; however, an estimated 5,622 structures were saved.

Governor Perry has issued state disaster proclamations for 216 of the state’s 254 counties in response to the fire danger.

No significant relief is in sight. The long range forecast calls for a strong cold front to cross the state at the beginning of the week, with showers and thunderstorms likely for the eastern half of Texas and a chance of rain and snow in the Panhandle. Little or no rain is expected across far west Texas. Drier, cooler air will spread over all of the state by Tuesday, remaining in place through the end of the week. Fire risk will remain elevated west of Interstate 35 and critical in the Trans Pecos area. Therefore, local and state resources remain on alert.

“The local fire departments are our first line of defense,” said Mark Stanford, fire operations chief for Texas Forest Service. “They have reported to us that they responded to 3,060 fires so far this year for a total of 148,310 acres of the overall acres burned.”

Cooperating and assisting state agencies during the fire season include: Governor's Division of Emergency Management, Texas Department of Public Safety, TX Air National Guard, TX State Fire Marshall's Office and Texas Parks and Wildlife and Texas AgriLife Extension.

Out-of-state resources from Arkansas, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Montana and Virginia are providing relief and additional support. Assisting federal resources include the U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, National Park Service and the Bureau of Land Management.

Citizens are urged to be extremely cautious during this period of critical fire danger. Some precautions suggested by Texas Forest Service include:

• Check with local authorities for Outdoor Burning Bans
• Your vehicle can start a fire if parked or driven in dry grass. ATVs and farming equipment can also start a fire if parked on the grass.
• Store flammable liquids properly.
• Remove dry vegetation from under electric fences.
• When welding, use a spotter, clear the area of dry vegetation, and have a water source handy. • Be sure tow chains are secure and don’t drag on the roadway.
• When grilling, place your barbeque over cement; be sure coals are dead out when you’re through (douse them thoroughly with water).

For more information on fire weather danger and advisories, go to and click on Wildfire Information.

Aww, shucks.

Thanks to Ann Legg for her glowing Letter to the Editor in this week's The Brackett News. And we're all so sorry about the loss of your property, but very grateful that no one was hurt.

This week's paper also has this in its community news:

Kinney County Commissioner's Court voted in a special called meeting on Monday, to extend a burn ban on Kinney County for a 90 day period which excludes exemptions in the previous ban.

What this burn ban basically means is that no one can burn, period, even if they've followed prescribed burn ban procedure. For various reasons, some I understand and some I'm sure I'm entirely unaware of, Kinney County law enforcement has been unable to enforce the burn ban in Kinney County, it's a shame but those guys have a lot on their shoulders. Here's hoping that this burn ban extension will make it easier to enforce the ban and, with any luck, make people realize that now is NOT the time to burn.

It's no wonder why people are so desperate to burn that they will defy burn bans. A burn kills off, or at least damages, a lot of inedible trees and brush. Even without rain a burned field pops back with lush, green grasses in just a week or two. It's so odd to see a lush green field surrounded by fields of dry, dead grasses. Lush green grasses are free food for cattle, goats, sheep, deer, and various other livestock and wildlife. It's expensive to have to buy feed during a drought for all your animals. And we've been in this drought for a long while. But the danger posed by burning during a drought is great. With the gusty winds we have and the super dry conditions, a wildfire can get out of control in a flash. When this happens, homes, livestock, equipment, structures, vehicles, fences, and people maybe in danger. It's a very big risk and not worth what could be lost.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

BVFD members give what they got

Our trucks may be out of our possession at the moment, but we haven't run out of ways to serve.

The Rio Grande Electric Cooperative in Brackettville, TX hosted a blood drive by the South Texas Blood & Tissue Center. Donors got a free t-shirt and some gentle treatment by the "vampires." They seemed like a happy, if thirsty, bunch of folks.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Some of the gang

The guys consented to a group shot after tonight's meeting 'cuz Jack (gray shirt, front row) wanted one for his girlfriend. Kissie lovey mushies from Jack to Carla! Seemed as good an excuse as any for a group photo, of which we have few.

The guys are flashing their "Ever Alert" cowboy fireman cups.

I'll fill in the rest of the guys names soon, I don't have everybody sorted out in my head yet. Sorry guys!

Monday, February 25, 2008

The City of Brackettville and the Kinney County Commissioners have officially withdrawn any and all support for the Brackettville Volunteer Fire Dept.

And it just goes downhill from there.

Tonight there was a workshop held between the City Council and the Commissioners Court. At the very beginning of the meeting my husband presented the workshop attendees with copies of the grants, *like this one, showing ownership of the BVFD trucks as well as other information we felt they should have before making their decision. The Commissioners’ legal counsel promptly stuffed all of it into a briefcase of some sort on the floor and later told the workshop attendees that there was NO issue with the trucks, because he’d seen the titles on at least one of them and knew them to be in the City’s name. I guess that was good enough for him. No one even glanced at the evidence provided by BVFD except Nat Terrazas after I gave him a note (the time for public input was over and no one in the peanut gallery was being acknowledged) telling him that they were there (he'd asked about how BVFD came to have the trucks and the rest of the attendees pretty much blew off his question). Minutes later there was a fire call and fire department members had to leave and never really got a chance to speak. Members of the public were only granted three minutes each anyway, BVFD wouldn’t have had much time to defend their stance on the matter. Although they should have been a part of the meeting, as KCFR was, and not regarded as “the public.”

The meeting was all about the Fire Protection Agreement between the City and the County which included giving over BVFD’s trucks.

The City voted unanimously for the new agreement. The Commissioners voted 3 for, and one against. Commissioner Nat Terrazas opposed the motion, thanks Nat!

Here’s the truly brilliant part of this new agreement. No where in it is how this switch over to KCFR from BVFD is to be handled. Both the County and the City made it quite clear that they were through supporting BVFD. But they didn’t discuss what happens now. What if there’s another fire between this very moment and the time that the trucks are handed over to KCFR? Even as I type there is a 10 mile wide fire raging on the Edwards/Real county line and Brackettville is full of the smoke from this fire. Is BVFD expected to respond if there’s a fire now? When are we expected to hand over our trucks? How long will Kinney County be without fire protection while the trucks are repaired? Or will the County be looking the other way while KCFR uses our outdated trucks to fight fires? It’s illegal for a paid department to use substandard equipment on a fire.

BVFD, after 57 years of service, has now unceremoniously been told, “We don’t need you anymore, hand over the keys.”

*The reason these grants are significant is because they clearly state that the grants were for BVFD and not the City of Brackettville. It’s unequivocal. The fact that the City insisted on putting the trucks in their name for insurance purposes is a technicality. More important than the title is the fact that you can’t just arbitrarily re-appropriate equipment paid for by grants. There’s a whole process that has to be adhered to and no one with the City or the County will even acknowledge these documents.

One of today's fires

It's quite possible that these will be the last shots ever of BVFD doing what we've been doing for 57 years as the City of Brackettville and the Kinney County Commissioners have seen fit to withraw any and all support from our department and to add insult to injury, they've taken our trucks. But it's not personal, they told us so repeatedly. That makes the theft of our trucks and the loss of community support all better.

Click images to enlarge:

It occurred on FM 334 and was started by someone who was welding and just didn't notice the one hot bit of metal that he'd tossed aside had sparked a fire. It's so dry here, it was out of control befire they knew what happened.

Click here to see all shots from today.

The second fire occurred in Spofford during this atrocity of a meeting. Spofford is a bit of a drive from Brackett. I was told that the house was burned to the ground by the time BVFD had arrived. No one was living in the home and it had no electricity running to it. It's unknown how the fire was started but some residents of Spofford commented that burned paper "and stuff" had been found in the house before and that kids "messed around" in it. BVFD spent several hours on the scene to keep the fire from spreading into the wildland in the area. Thankfully, no one was physically hurt.

More from The Brackett News

My last published blog entry used a clipping from The Brackett News that I honestly felt I had fair use to use since its content wasn't original (unless the newspaper changed the Sheriff's Report before printing it), because it was for non-profit use, and because it was such a small portion of the published paper as a whole. However, in a very polite email from The Brackett News owner, Leigh Volscko, she told me she had been informed that I had scanned and uploaded a portion of her paper and asked me to remove it, so I have.

You will have to just trust me from here, I suppose, unless you have your own copy of the paper to refer to. I will quote the portion of the clipping that I published in my last entry.

In last week's Sheriff's Report there was quote saying that on Monday, February 11th, "....the fire was getting close to the houses. The Brackettville Volunteer Fire Dept. was paged three times and there were no response. The Val Verde Fire Department was then contacted. The fire was later reported under control and aide was cancelled."

This story isn't "wrong." It just leaves out some key facts which ultimately leaves the reader believing that BVFD ignored three calls from the Sheriff's office on this fire. Yours truly was on the phone with the Sheriff's office immediately after the first page and within minutes (less than five) after the first page the fire was called off. In fact, I still have the phone number of the contact person who reported the fire, I wrote it down when the Sheriff's office called my home right after the first page. The fire may have been paged out three times, I don't remember, I was too busy grabbing my husband's bunker gear for him as he was trying to get oriented--he'd just been wakened from a dead sleep-- to count how many times the fire got paged out. I was also very scared because the page had said that there were homes being threatened by the fire. Believe me, that gets you moving. Above all else, firefighters (volunteer or otherwise) are keenly aware of what fire can do to lives and homes.

Our firefighters nearly all have cell phones and they all call each other within moments of a page so they can begin organizing even as they are jumping in their cars to drive to the station. This call was called off so quickly that there was little time for firefighters to call the Sheriff's office or each other.

Response time from a paid department who has firefighters standing by, within feet of their trucks, to respond at all times would be much quicker than the response time from a group of volunteer firefighters who are all asleep in their beds at 2:30 in the morning. A slightly slower response time from volunteers who don't hang out at the station 24/7 is to be expected.

I've said this before publicly and I've said it here repeatedly: If the county wants to create a county run fire department so it can have firefighters who can respond faster and have better equipment, then they should do it. It would be a good thing for the community. But BVFD shouldn't get bashed, even if was an accidental omission, for being volunteers who can't scramble as fast because they are ASLEEP or at work or fishing with their kids or doing what people do when they aren't voluntarily risking their health and safety to protect the lives and properties of others.

If you don't like the way that BVFD responds to a fire, then there's something you can do about it. You can join. BVFD can't be changed from the outside, it's an entity run by its members. BVFD is not answerable to the county or to the city. You want it to be run differently? Then get in here and show us what you got.

On a more personal note, I was sitting in the living room one day watching television with a friend when Julie Fuentes (of Daddy's Grill) knocked on my door. She wanted to let me know that my back yard was on fire. Bless that woman, she probably saved our house. I raced to the backyard to discover that a large pile of wood had caught fire because of some hot coals that fell out of the barbeque pit. We called 911 immediately and BVFD members (this was years before my husband joined the department) were there in less than five minutes. Some were in personal vehicles and one of the fire engines arrived too.

I had the fire out by the time they arrived, a girl can move pretty fast when she's afraid her house is going to burn down, but my eaves were blackened at one corner of the house and those guys scrambled onto the roof to make sure that no sparks had settled themselves on something up there that might catch (my roof is metal but there is some wooden trim up there as well). I watched amazed as they used the call as a training session for some of the newer members--showing the newbies how to feel for hotspots, look and smell for smoke, and I don't know what all they did up there.

I was so grateful for the department at that moment and my gratitude has never waned since. I've always had a special place in my heart for BVFD, however. My stepfather was a member of the department for many years and also served as Chief.