Breckenridge Texan

Firefighters get upper hand on wildfire

Firefighters get upper hand on wildfire
June 30
10:42 2018

By late Friday afternoon, the large plumes of smoke that had been rising into the southern Stephens County skies were gone. But across the valley of rugged and rocky terrain on the south side of County Road 190, smoke from the “Conner Wildfire” hung in the trees and brush, and small patches of bright orange flames were still scattered around the blackened landscape.

A Texas A&M Forest Service helicopter drops water on the Conner Wildfire’s remaining hot spots Friday afternoon. (Photo by Tony Pilkington/Breckenridge Texan)

Above it all, a Texas Forest Service helicopter carried a large bucket on a cable, ferrying loads of water to dump on the hot spots below. Three airplanes circled above, taking turns as they swooped in low, like dive bombers, dropping fire retardant on the remaining flames.

After battling throughout the night, firefighters were finally getting the upper hand on the blaze. And, by late Friday evening, the Forest Service said the fire was 70 percent contained and had burned about 2,500 acres since it started on Thursday.

Local firefighters from Breckenridge and area volunteer fire departments drove along County Road 190, staying out of the pastures so the Forest Service could continue making the drops in the area. Breckenridge Fire Chief Calvin Chaney was still on the scene and said the firefighters were making sure the fire didn’t jump the road and that they didn’t have any other issues popping up.

Hot spots continued to flare up Friday afternoon in the Conner Wildfire. (Photo by Tony Pilkington/Breckenridge Texan)

Along the dirt county road, there was visible evidence of the battle firefighters had put up the night before. A water tank truck for refilling pumper trucks was strategically parked along the way for firefighters, who drove down the road, stopping to spray hot spots. There were blackened fields and burned out brush and trees, as well as the bulldozed dirt paths and burned fire lines firefighters had set to stop the flames from spreading to nearby houses.

Some of the trailers and trucks used to bring in the Forest Service’s bulldozers were parked in the front yard of a house on the south side of the road. Chaney said it had been a major fight to save the house from the oncoming flames the night before.

He said the forest service was able get a bulldozer to the area and cut a path around the house and then they back-burned around the house to direct the flames around the house. “Just trying to save it was very tough,” he said.

Kessa Compton, who has lived in the area affected by the fire all of her life, was driving around Friday afternoon, offering donated food and drinks to the firefighters still on the scene. (Photo by Tony Pilkington/Breckenridge Texan)

Stephens County Sheriff Will Holt, who was standing in the hot afternoon sun Friday afternoon behind the house which overlooked the valley, said that when he had been there the night before, he saw wild rabbits charging out of the brush as flames pushed their way toward the house.

When Holt and the chief deputy first responded on Thursday they initially weren’t needed because the fire was so far into the pasture and ranch land. However, as it moved closer to County Road 190, the fire chief asked them to close off the road to onlookers and non-emergency personnel, allowing in only firefighters or people who lived there or had ranch land or livestock in the area.

“From our standpoint, it’s a lot of guarding roads and sitting around,” Holt said. “It’s a little bit frustrating because firefighting is not our expertise, and so we don’t do a whole lot, from that perspective  We sit and watch, but we’re guarding the roads from a support perspective to allow the firefighters to do their job as accurately and fast as possible.”

Note: A video that Holt shot Thursday night at the fire is posted at the bottom of this article.

While firefighters were battling the fire through the night and into the early morning hours, members of the Gunsight Baptist Church and other community members rallied to collect water and food donations for the firefighters. They made sandwiches and collected pizza and chicken meals.

Cheney said the community has been very supportive of the firefighters. On Thursday night, they had to close off County Road 190 because it was too dangerous.  But, once the road was reopened on Friday, he said, people from the community had been bringing them food, including cookies from the Breckenridge Girl Scouts.

Kessa Compton, left, and Steve Moorman talk to Sheriff Will Holt on County Road 190 Friday afternoon. Compton was out distributing food and drinks to the emergency responders. (Photo by Tony Pilkington/Breckenridge Texan)

One of those people was Kessa Compton, a member of Gunsight Baptist Church. She has lived in the area her entire life, and on Friday afternoon, she was driving up and down the dirt road in a 4-wheel drive utility vehicle stocked with the donated food and drinks. She offered fire crews and emergency workers a sandwich or a Gatorade drink and friendly conversation, all of which was greatly appreciated by those on the front line.

Compton said she started helping out around 2 p.m. on Thursday afternoon and went until 4 a.m Friday morning. Then, after a couple hours sleep, she was at it again at 6 a.m. on Friday morning.

She said she was grateful for the sacrifices the firefighters were making and wanted to be there to help out.

“They’ve left their families, they’ve done without sleep, they’ve done without food,” she said. “Everybody asks me why I’m doing what I’m doing –  it’s because they’re giving up for us. These firemen are our guardian angels; they’re awesome.”

Story by Tony Pilkington/Breckenridge Texan

Not much but a few cactus and some brush survived the wildfire that swept through a portion of southern Stephens County on Thursday and into Friday. According to the Texas A&M Forest Service, at least 2,500 acres burned. (Photo by Tony Pilkington/Breckenridge Texan)

Cutline, top photo: A Breckenridge firefighter sprays water on hot spots along County Road 190 Friday afternoon. The local firefighters were sticking to the roadways Friday to allow the Texas Forest Service to continue dropping water and fire retardant on the pastures from the air. (Photo by Tony Pilkington/Breckenridge Texan)

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