Breckenridge Texan

Stephens County citizens supply support as area and state firefighters battle blazes

Stephens County citizens supply support as area and state firefighters battle blazes
September 03
09:30 2020

By Tony Pilkington and Carla McKeown/Breckenridge Texan

When rain finally came through the area on Tuesday, it gave local firefighters a much needed break from the fires they’ve been fighting over the past month — sometimes multiple fires a day. But, the rain isn’t the only relief the firefighters have had lately: local residents have been pitching in to help feed the firefighters and give them a brief respite from the heat and hard work.

“We’ve been busy for about the last month,” said Breckenridge Fire Chief Calvin Chaney. “We’ve been running non-stop almost every day, you know, one to two, three fires every day.”

Recently, a lot of people have helped support the firefighters during the wildfires. Chaney said, for example, that people like Kessa Compton and Burle and Dana McKelvain have provided food and drinks, and others have donated food that has been brought to them. Additionally, local churches have been helping, he said.

On Monday, on the Breckenridge Fire Department Facebook page, Chaney wrote the following description of what it means to the firefighters to receive such assistance:

Imagine, if you will, you and your fellow firefighters enter a house that is not on fire but instead you find the inside very cool with a/c running. You make your way to kitchen area with your colleagues in tow, you find 6 loaves of bread on the counter with a note…..Note says the meat and cheese is in the fridge, chips are on the counter along with Mayo and Mustard, there are cold waters and Gatorade also in the fridge. Enjoy the cool air and your meal. This is the house that Dana McKelvain has set up for the firefighters today at the 1853 fire.

We would like to say thank you for all the people that made this happen because I don’t know who contributed and don’t wanna leave anyone out.

I had to tell (Texas Forest Service) and US Forestry Service that we needed to partake in this food offering because we didn’t want to offend anyone after all the work it took to make it happen. We were all surprised and very much thankful for what laid behind those doors in the kitchen. We did our best to clean up behind ourselves and then we braced ourselves to open that door again and face that blowtorch Mother Nature had waiting for all of us again. Thank you all!!!

In response to Chaney’s post, Dana McKelvain wrote, “It was a small contribution and our joy to be able to offer a respite from the heat. It was a group effort from Kim Schooler-Fuller and family, Joy Waldrep, and Gunsight Church. As they say in real estate: location, location, location! Way out here we usually are not in the right location! Appreciate everyone who worked so hard and gave so much, risking it all to save people, animals, and property. You all are real heroes!”

Additionally, Chaney posted a thank you for some help in the form of equipment. When the Texas Forest Service had some mechanical issues with their road grader and couldn’t finish the fire guard they had started, Chaney called Stephens County Precinct 2 Commissioner Mark McCollough, and he had his two road graders on the scene shortly, along with operators Don Phillips and Johnny Boggs.

“They completed the fire guard that had not been finished, and that gives the Forest Service access to the entire fire for working hot spots and containment,” Chaney wrote. “I cannot stress how important that was for us to gain total access to this fire and gain a buffer from unburned fuels! Thank you all for helping the firefight and thank you for putting Stephens County residents at the forefront.”

Weekend fires

Over the weekend, local, area and state firefighters battled a major fire in the southeast section of the county that burned 1,120 acres. The fire, labeled as the 1853 fire on the Texas Wildfire Incident Response System, was located near the intersection of FM 1853 and FM 576.

The fire that started by lightning strike Saturday night eventually required the closure of FM 576 as firefighters battled to keep the blaze from spreading. (Photo courtesy of Toby Williams/Hubbard Creek Volunteer Fire Department)

The Volunteer Fire Departments from Hubbard Creek, Caddo and Wayland, along with the Breckenridge Fire Department,  were all involved in fighting the fire. Chaney said there were  probably around 24 local firefighters from all the departments in the county involved in the battle. Additionally, about 30 people were on scene from the U.S. and Texas Forest Services with about six bulldozers and a maintainer.

The forest service also provided a helicopter to prevent the fire from jumping the road.

“It (the helicopter) did a heck of a job when we got it,” Chaney said.

While that fire was going on, there were also two other big fires in Shackelford County about five miles away. Chaney said smoke from the fires could be seen going together like it was one fire, but it was actually three separate fires.

He said the fire in Stephens County and the ones in Shackelford County started about 9:45 p.m. Saturday night and were caused by strikes of what he called “dry lightning,” which is what happens when a thunderstorm produces thunder and lightning but no moisture reaches the ground.

“It started in the middle of nowhere,” Chaney said. “It was way out in a pasture, and by the time it got done Sunday evening, we were fighting it off of those roads.”

Chaney said by the time fire units arrived on scene, the fire had probably burned more than 150 acres or so. It was rough terrain with no good access. “It just all added to a bad situation,” he said.

All of the departments were on the scene until about 9 a.m. the next morning.

“I tried to rotate the volunteers out to get them some rest, but the fire didn’t hold long enough and I had to call them all back in,” he said.

Additionally, the Stephens County Sheriff’s Office and the Texas Department of Transportation crews assisted with scene safety.

According to Chaney, there wasn’t any major property damage caused by the fire. He said there was one old barn on the property that was just falling down, and a lot fences, fence posts and things like that were lost.

Also, some of the volunteer fire department trucks sustained damage from the rough terrain they had to drive through to fight the fire on Saturday night. Chaney said one truck sustained broken springs on an axle and there were some blowouts.

“There was nothing too serious, but there’s going to be some mechanical problems that need to fixed,” he said. “If you can help these volunteers, donate to them. That way they can keep running.”

Shackelford County Fire

Stephens County firefighters also helped fight the Shackelford County fire. According to Chaney, one truck from Wayland VFD and one from Hubbard Creek VFD initially went over to that fire because, at the time, they didn’t know whether or not that fire was in Stephens County.

However, he said once they got to the fire, there weren’t any other fire trucks there, so they stayed at the scene overnight and helped out with that fire.

Also, according to Chaney, the forest service used airplanes to fight the fire in Shackelford County.

Effect of rain on the local fire situation

Chaney said the recent rains will help buy the area a few days of non-fire time, but once the rain stops and the sun comes out, the area will quickly dry out again. And that means local residents and workers don’t need to let up on their fire safety protocols.

“All we’re getting right now is ground moisture,” he said. “But the fuel moisture, the (dried) grass that’s on top of the ground … it doesn’t help that.”

He said it’s important to keep people from getting complacent about fire safety because it’s still dangerous. As soon as the dry grass on top dries out, it can catch fire, despite the ground moisture.

Additionally, Chaney said, with ground moisture and dry grass, you get a muddy ground with dry grass on top which can be a problem for fire trucks when they are trying to fight wild fires.

The local fire departments are taking advantage of the break from fighting fires to work on the equipment and fix tires and things like that.

The National Weather Service’s forecast shows rain chances dropping to 20 percent or lower through Labor Day before returning to 50 percent next week. Click here to read the Breckenridge Texan’s story on the recent rain and the upcoming weather forecast.

 New brush trucks

Stephens County recently purchased a new brush truck for the BFD and the county received a USDA grant for an additional truck. The basic trucks were delivered and the fire department is transferring the firefighting equipment from their old trucks onto the new trucks.

Chaney said the new BFD brush fire trucks are almost ready for service and the department hopes to have both new trucks finished and in service by the end of the weekend.

Recently, local businesses Kel-Abby Collision Center and MLR Graphics assisted the fire department in getting the trucks ready for service. Kel-Abby donated two sets of sidesteps for the two new fire trucks, and MLR Graphics donated the gold reflective trim for both new fire trucks and also did the installation.

“The Breckenridge Fire Department is very humbled by both of these gestures because we never ask for donations of any kind since we are a tax funded fire department,” Chaney said in a Facebook post. “Thank you from all the firefighters at BFD! This is why we live in Breckenridge and love our community.”

Recently, Kel-Abby donated two sets of sidesteps and MLR Graphics donated the gold reflective trim and also did the installation for the Breckenridge Fire Department’s two new brush trucks. (Photo courtesy of the Breckenridge Fire Department)

Cutline, top photo: About 24 firefighters from four Stephens County fire departments, as well as members of the U.S. and Texas Forest Services, battled the 1853 Fire in the southern part of the county, beginning on Saturday night. (Photo courtesy of the Breckenridge Fire Department)

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