Fort Davis, Texas fire destroys 20-40 residences, including home of NPS retiree

Fort Davis home burned in wildfire

One of the homes that burned in Fort Davis, TX on Sunday. Photo: KOSA-TV

The Rockhouse fire burned through Fort Davis, Texas on Sunday destroying 20 to 40 homes, according to the Texas Forest Service.  Fort Davis is a small town about 200 miles southeast of El Paso and about 80 miles north of Big Bend National Park (map). The 80,000-acre fire is 10 percent contained as of Monday morning.

Jerry Yarbrough

Jerry Yarbrough, with the group that he organized to restore the 1876 post hospital at Fort Davis NHS. Photo: Regina Heiner

The fire spared Fort Davis National Historic Site, a U.S. Army cavalry fort built in 1854 to protect a mail route from San Antonio to El Paso. But the fire claimed the residence of a former Superintendent of the site, Jerry Yarbrough and his wife Jeanie. They are safe, but according to an email Sunday night from a friend of theirs:

They lost everything….they have only the clothes on their backs and the vehicle they were in while shopping in Odessa, Texas. They visited their home site this morning and found nothing….literally nothing….that is salvageable.

According to Jerry the fire started outside of Marfa, Texas yesterday during high winds. It raced twenty-one miles across the prairie and wooded landscape to Fort Davis, Texas in only 30 minutes precluding much preparation by anyone. It was reported that 65 mph winds pushed the fire into 40 foot flame lengths. The fire entered Fort Davis on the south side of the town and split into two sections that began to actively burn within the town. Jerry’s home lies on the southern edge of the small town and was burned to the ground even though it had been fireproofed and the land cleared to prevent fire by Jerry over the years.

The Rockhouse fire was one of many that were burning across Texas on Sunday. On Monday Quesinberry’s Type 1 Incident Management Team from the Southern Geographic area is assuming command of that fire and several others.

Saturday the Texas Forest Service issued a news release warning about the predicted weather for Sunday:

Wildfire weather conditions on Sunday could shape up to be among the worst in Texas history.

Key weather factors include pervasive drought conditions, sustained winds of 30 – 35 mph – gusting up to 50 mph, high temperatures and low relative humidity. These weather conditions along with record-dry vegetation increase the potential for wildfires not only starting but also spreading quickly.

Here is a summary of some of the larger fires in Texas according to a report from the Texas Forest Service.

  • ROCKHOUSE, Presidio and Jeff Davis counties. 80,000 acres, 10 percent contained. Damage assessments are ongoing to determine the number of homes destroyed. The initial report indicates 20-40 lost.
  • SWENSON, Stonewall, King, and Knox counties. 71,000 acres, 25 percent contained.
  • HICKMAN, Midland County. 16,500 acres, 95 percent contained. Thirty-four homes were reported destroyed on this fire burning on the south side of Midland.
  • KILLOUGH, Garza County. 40,000 acres, 50 percent contained.
  • CRAWFORD RANCH, Moore and Potter counties. 60,000 acres, 80 percent contained.

In addition to the Type 1 IMTeam, the National Interagency Coordination Center has mobilized 2 Type 1 crews, 4 Initial Attack crews, 1 caterer, 8 helicopters, and 4 airtankers. More resource requests are expected.

Large wildfires April 11, 2011

Large wildfires April 11, 2011

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About Bill Gabbert

Wildland fire has been a major part of Bill Gabbert’s life for several decades. After growing up in the south, he migrated to southern California where he lived for 20 years, working as a wildland firefighter. Later he took his affinity for firefighting to Indiana and eventually the Black Hills of South Dakota where he was the Fire Management Officer for a group of seven national parks. Today he is the creator and owner of WildfireToday.com and Sagacity Wildfire Services and serves as an expert witness in wildland fire. If you are interested in wildland fire, welcome… grab a cup of coffee and put your feet up. Google+

11 thoughts on “Fort Davis, Texas fire destroys 20-40 residences, including home of NPS retiree

  1. How can we help those who lost everything? What is needed? Is there a fund of any sort established? Please forward my e-mail address to Jeanie and Jerry.

    • Robert Arnberger is coordinating a relief fund for Jerry Yarbrough and his wife Jeanie. The following is information from him:

      · MAKE THE CHECK OUT TO ROBERT ARNBERGER. IN THE MEMO SECTION OF THE CHECK INDICATE “YARBROUGH FUND”.

      · ASSISTANCE FUND WILL CLOSE ON MONDAY MAY 2, 2011.

      · SEND CHECKS TO : ROBERT ARNBERGER; 4621 N. CERRITOS DRIVE, TUCSON, AZ. 85745

      · I CAN ALSO BE CONTACTED AT 520-743-1717 and robvera (-at-) comcast (-dot-) net

      · ON MAY 3, 2011 I WILL SEND A CHECK TO JERRY REPRESENTING THE TOTAL DONATIONS WITH THE NAMES AND ADDRESSES OF THOSE WHO GAVE.

  2. This is a tragic thing thst happened i visit there often and it hurt me to see what hsppened. I just hope that everybody is ok and safe.

  3. I lived in Ft Davis in 1969. We lived in what was called the Presbyterian Manse. We had a miniature golf course and chicken fry stand at the intersection of the Balmora highway and the road that went to the Indian Lodge. Later we purchased a home. To get to that home you would turn at the courthouse pass the Limpia and on up through a rock corridor. It was the first house on the right with a huge terraced yard. Our land went up the mountain and overlooked the old fort. I was only 12. I have the fondest memories. I was wondering if anyone knows if either of those houses burned. The Manse was at the end of the street up from the Presbyterian church. My father was Harry Nelson, they called him Colonel Nelson, like the KFC guy. My mother was Lavonia Nelson and she was the superintendent’s secretary. Mr Ward was the principal then. I want to cry everytime of think of Fort Davis burning. I loved that place.

    • Karen, I lived in Ft. Davis until about 1966 or 1967. I think we lived in the same house. You go up the hill through a rock corridor and it was the first house on the right. Across from Mrs. Neill’s doll museum. I loved that house! My sisters and I have very fond memories of living there.

  4. I have one more question. My mother worked as a secretary at the Indian Lodge during the summer. Is the Indian Lodge okay? I went to a very old school that was a high school and jr high combo. Is it still there?

  5. Karen i hope all is well, you hold places like that in your hart and they live for ever. i am sure it is fine there.

  6. Does anybody have any pictures posted of the houses that burned. We moved to Ft. Davis in 1967 when I was 5. We lived in what my dad called “the stone house” on the south side of town. I would like to find out if it was one of the ones lost in the fire. We also lived in a house on the southwest corner of the elementary school by the old fort. I wonder how it fared as well. Last time I was out there was in 2007, I got to speak with Mr. Russell, our elementary principal back then, I hope he’s OK.

    Karen, by your description you are about my brother’s age, do you remember Rick? He was in class of ’73.

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