Weatherford Democrat

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September 7, 2011

County fires contained

Poolville, Millsap fires burn about 100 acres; extended drought forecast elevates fire threat

WEATHERFORD — The Parker County Fire Marshal’s mobile command unit returned to Parker County from the Possum Kingdom fire Tuesday, only to be serviced and turn around in response to another blaze.

A vehicle accident in the 4600 block of Lone Star Road ignited a fire between Whitt and Poolville in northeast Parker County around 4 p.m. County Fire Marshal Shawn Scott said the accident looked similar to the one last week that claimed the lives of three people, but there were no fatalities in this instance.

The fire put seven homes in danger and five houses were evacuated. All five families returned home Tuesday evening.

“We’re at 75 acres right now,” Scott said around 8 p.m. “The forward progression of the fire has been stopped, but there is a lot of fire burning in the interior. We’re working on containment lines around it. We’ll be here until 11 o’clock tonight working on this one.”

Nearly a dozen fire departments and emergency crews responded to the fire including Parker County Precinct 1 and Precinct 2 with dozers and air support from the Texas Forest Service.

“We’re applying a lot more resources because of the conditions,” Scott said.

The county has been calling in at least three departments on every grass fire since the middle of July.

“It’s highly unusual, but we’ll continue to do so until conditions significantly improve,” he said. “Because the fires grow so fast and quickly, we apply the necessary manpower as quickly as possible.”

Local firefighters also responded to a 20-acre fire in Millsap on Monday. Scott said a power surge caused a transformer to turn loose. The same incident caused a fire in a mobile home in the 600 block of FM 113, but only cause minor damage as responders took care of it quickly, he said.

In Palo Pinto County, the 101 Ranch fire at Possum Kingdom Lake is nearly contained, but the threat of xquture fires has not diminished as other wildfires rage across Texas.

Even with the cooler temperatures, the fire danger remains at an elevated level due to the ongoing drought.

Since the first of June, the Weatherford weather station, located at the city’s wastewater treatment, plan has measured 2.54 inches or rain with the last measurable traces occurring Aug. 14.

Weatherford’s water/wastewater director James Hotopp said last week’s sprinkle was only “accounted as trace precipitation.”

According to weather.com, the average for Weatherford 3.93 inches in June, 2.11 in July and 2.6 in August. The area also averages an additional 11.81 inches for the last four months of the year.

But with a La Nina in the forecast, the winter months could remain dry. Colder months also bring more wind gusts to this area.

“This is simply the beginning,” Weatherford Fire Marshal Bob Hopkins said. “I think we are in a drought of Biblical proportions and the fire situation is extreme. Everything is dead and the wind is key. Once we get those windy days, and that’s all we’re going to have now until Christmas, we are going to have an extremely challenging year, one like we’ve never seen before.”

To help with the heightened fire danger, additional help is also pouring in from across the country to aid Texas, Hopkins said.

“I believe they are going to be stationed in strategic points throughout the state and hopefully get a handle on things soon,” he said. “Today, you can do that, but on days with 30 mph winds, you can have the United States Marine Corp standing there and there is nothing they can do to fight 30-foot flames. That’s the challenge we’re facing.

“Folks need to be vigilant, and don’t do anything that will cause a spark because that’s all it will take. We’re on a vigilant watch every day.”

The Texas Forest Service released a public service announcement this week reminding Texan’s of the ensuing wildfire threat.

“Whether you live near open grassland or in a suburban area, fire can threaten your home and your safety,” the PSA states. “An estimated 90 percent of all Texas wildfires are caused by human activity. As we have seen, high winds and dry conditions can set the stage for potentially severe fires, putting lives and property at risk.”

The frequent fires are causing other organizations to speak out on fire safety as well. The Insurance Institute for Business and  Home Safety is offering a checklist to help prioritize maintenance and renovation projects for homeowners that will decrease their fire risk.

“Wildfires are particularly dangerous, because they are highly unpredictable,” they state in a press release. “Their paths can change quickly as winds shift. Because there may only be time to evacuate, being prepared all the time is really important. This will determine how well your home stands up against a wildfire, even if you aren’t home when the fire hits. Fortunately, many of the most effective things you can do to protect your home are relatively simple and free.”

Visit www.disastersafety.org/Wildfire for more details.

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