Fire in Texas burns over 70,000 acres

 

Stonewall County Sheriff Bill Mullen lights backfire
Stonewall County Sheriff Bill Mullen lights a backfire in northern Stonewall County on Friday, April 8, 2011. Victor Cristales/Reporter-News

This photo is one of the 12 in a slide show at Reporternews, that features firefighters in Stonewall County, Texas. Check out the slide show, then go check out your personal protective equipment.

The Swenson fire in Stonewall County, Texas has burned 71,786 acres as of Friday afternoon. Jan Amens public information officer for the Texas Forest Service, said firefighters have not yet been successful at containing any portions of the fire. Air tankers dropped 58,000 gallons of retardant on Thursday while firefighters from 25 states have responded to help suppress the blaze.

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Author: Bill Gabbert

After working full time in wildland fire for 33 years, he continues to learn, and strives to be a Student of Fire.

25 thoughts on “Fire in Texas burns over 70,000 acres”

  1. Given his cocksure, know-it-all attitude, I wouldn’t accept an offer from Ray to housetrain a dog. If he tendered his training offers in the same tone he writes his comments, no wonder he was turned down. I can hear it now: “Listen up people! I’m here to undo years of bad habits, stupid procedures, and bad firefighting!”

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  2. The four firefighters who were injured on Sat happened in my IA zone. I listened to the whole episode on the radio and PPE was the least of their mistakes. This incident will not be investigated unless the firefighter in the burn center passes away. Even then there will be no accountability back to the VFD. As the only Fed in this region we battle every day to get the VFD’s to wear proper PPE not structure PPE, use safe tactics and establish communications. I have been here 1 year, in fire 23 years and you would not beleive the things I have seen on wildfires in this State.

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    1. Bruce,

      I know what you are saying brother. I have seen it as well with my own 2 eyes. It’s amazing what happens. I have seen a Fire Chief still be in place after 2 FF died on a well maintained and traveld RD. He is still there and nothing has changed. It is so sad that we lose our fellow firefighters due to a lack of wanting to change and better themsevles. Best of luck to you and be safe Brother.

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    1. Point has been made. it happend like we said it would. I have a feeling that not much will change. I know a VFD in Colorado that had 2 firefighters die when there fire truck drove off a bridge that was burned out. Nothing has changed to see that it wont happen agian. Stubbron hard headed and ego fire officers need to let it go and learn from there mistakes.

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  3. I can understand the criticism of the lack of PPE but I think we also must look at a lot of the other driving factors as others have pointed out including a lack of training, being a volunteer department as well as the others. But yet no one has ever mentioned budgets, how much tax support does this department receive if any or are they trying to survive on donations and fund raisers alone, I’m sure no matter where you fight fire in the US or another country, paid or volunteer we all have had to contend with the problem of funding. More times than I would care to imagine urban, suburban, and rural VFD s have had to make difficult decisions on purchasing whether it’s the three quarter of a million dollar purchase of a new aerial truck or the 10 grand to outfit 15 to 20 fire fighters in Wildland PPE or being able to pay the mortgage and utilities. With funding sources drying up, governments and our community’s families having to cut back we have all had to not make purchases that would improve safety in one way or another. Looking at the rest of the slide show I’m not seeing new fire apparatus or any other indicator of a wealthy department that is refusing to provide for its members in fact I’m looking at a department who is attempting to protect its community in the best way it can presently the same way we all do every day of the year. People have ask why are they not requesting help from outside resources, were is the fire located on private, local, tribal, or other government property and who is ultimately responsible for the bill how many of us have ever been sent outside of our home units before that unit knew who was paying the bill. Lastly I would just like ask a question of the Wildland community how many of us have several pairs of older PPE laying around that we cannot use on the line in our home units due to new SOPs but that are in good shape and could be sent as a donation to these departments that have no PPE. I’m sure they would appreciate the assistance.

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  4. Funny thing–I am part of a small, rural volunteer department in rural Colorado. Last Wednesday I dropped in on a larger department in the same county.

    They were having their wildland-fire refresher course, which included a Texas Forest Service video. The video showed a Texas volunteer who had attacked the head of a fire too aggressively from outside the black. His arms were wrapped in gauze all the way past his elbows (short sleeves, no gloves that day), and his face was covered with peeling skin.

    The difference is cultural, I think. We work alongside the Forest Service every season, and so we are under pressure to get the wildland PPE, have red cards (at least some of us), and so on. But some of our more casual members will still show up in whatever they are wearing that day.

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    1. Chas, that video may have been Attack from the Black, which the Texas Forest Service has made available to fire departments across the country. It “stresses the importance of wearing proper Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)”.

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  5. The fire crews pictured are just out doing their job as they have incorrectly learned. Not so much the fault of the individual but much more the system.

    I wonder if the insurance carrier(s)for these departments saw the pictures would they continue to give coverage?

    Dick Mangan is right on target with his comments.

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    1. When (not “If”) a Texas firefighter dies or gets seriously burned because they were not wearing the PPE that most of the US fire services wear, I would hate to be the Department/Chief that has to answer the questions that some big-hatted Texas lawyer will ask on behalf of the firefighter’s loved ones: have you ever heard of NWCG? How about NFPA? Are you a member of IAFC? Why do you not follow any of their guidelines/standards for PPE for your firefighters?
      Business as usual does not cut it in the 21st Century; otherwise we would all be fighting fire with an unfiltered Camel cigarette in one hand and a cold beer in the other while wearing “Can’t Bust Em” levis.
      Grass grows back; homes are rebuilt; dead firefighters are FOREVER!!

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    2. I suspect you’re making a big leap to assume they have an insurance carrier.

      There’s a lot of departments in that area which I’m certain run without coverage simply due to lack of funds.

      I tried to find Stonewall County and/or VFD budget info and failed. They are 1700 population in 900 square miles, and I’m guessing knowing that area of the country they run on baling wire and bubble gum.

      This is a fire company that protects similar rangeland in an adjoining state: http://www.cimtel.net/~killerb/index.htm (I can remember when they were just getting off the ground and asking for advice on the ‘net). Consider that they’re happy with a $48/year subscription and the FIRE Act grant to buy an engine was for $23,000 (yes five, not six, digits).

      This is an issue that’s not just the taxpayers of the district, nor just the firefighters, nor just the state legislature’s fault. It’s something that needs the cooperation of EVERYONE involved, not sniping remarks, to solve.

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  6. Texas has its own “style” in fighting fires. It doesn’t like foreigners (out of state help)! I am surprised to see one of those “borate bomber” being used. Each county sheriff is a politically powerful person and probably part of the local volunteer fire departments. Protective clothing is only needed when you are not sure what your doing.
    Big Country probably needs a big “Borate Bomber”? (solution: VLAT). Texas, nice people, great food. God Bless Texas. (and those in the fire areas)

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    1. I am not sure why Johnny is using the term “borate bomber”. But just so no one gets the idea that it is an accepted term, here’s what we wrote on November 24, 2009, about the Inaja fire of 1956 in southern California in which 11 firefighters were killed.

      This was one of the first fires where sodium calcium borate was used as a fire retardant dropped from an air tanker. It was quickly discovered that this chemical sterilized the soil, and by 1957 it was no longer used. However, the term “borate bomber” lingered on for decades.

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    2. Johnny – I could not disagree more with your statement that “protective clothing is only needed when you are not sure what your doing”.
      Using your rationale, Police officers do not need bullet-proof vests, our Armed Forces in Iraq and Afgan do not need body armour, and helicopter flight crews don’t need Nomex flight suits or SPH-5 flight helmets: after all, all of these folks are well-trained professionals!
      I’ve served as a Type 1 OPS Chief and a Safety Officer for more than 20 years on fires across the US, and would NEVER go on a wildfire without my full PPE; I’ve investigated too many entrapment incidents where the failure to use assigned PPE has resulted in bad burn injuries or fatalities.
      And as an aside, the Fatality Study that I conducted for the 1990 – 2006 fire seasons showed Texas with 19 fatalities in those years: wonder in PPE use might have saved a few of those lives?

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  7. These men have been out fighting these fires for 3-4 days in high temps with little or no sleep – put on your protective personal gear and come help or leave the snide comments unspoken. They have performed heroically in daunting circumstances and deserve only the highest respect.

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    1. Sounds like a normal season on Hotshot crew. 14 days of 100+ temps single digit humity and 16 to 20 hour shifts and line spiking at night. 70,000 acres and 0 containment. Sounds like folks in Texas need to wake up and learn how o fight fire the right way.

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    2. I don’t think people are meaning these comments to be rude, but it is a pretty big hazard to not protect yourself properly. I dont doubt that those men in the photos are great people, just pray they stay great people and not become statistics. Constructive critisism is what all of us need to help avoid accidents. I have fought both wildland and structure fires, and I ALWAYS want someone watching my back. Even if I screw up and it is a harsh repremand, it is better than leaving my children fatherless. These men need to get PPE on, so that they too have a better chance of returning to their loved ones, that is all I am saying. Another thing, what about the IC and Safety Officer? It is their responsability to call these things out and help these men be safe along with establishing L.C.E.S.

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      1. Sheesh I just realized my spelling is horrible; don’t, criticism, reprimand, Responsibility.

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  8. Surely there are standards of protective clothing that must be worn by any Department when they are fighting wildfires or attending any emergency.
    I agree with Tim that someone has to get injured or dies before something happens.

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    1. Wol,

      In Texas its a whole other world. There and in some depts No standards or even any Wildland PPE. Riding on the engine happens every time. Little to no basic training and they havent even heard fo useing or wearing a fire Shelter. You and Tim are right that folks will have to die for them to get the point. The agency will have to be used and people held accoutable for they actions. I have lived and fought wildfires in Texas; it is a whole diffrent world down there.

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      1. I would like to respond to Ray and the many other critics of the men and women who volunteer to fight fire in Texas. Ray it seems as though you were right there and know every detail of what was happening in Stonewall County. If you will take note the caption under the photo says Sheriff NOT Fire fighter. Why was the Sheriff lighting the backfire and not a fire freighter?? I can only speculate. Maybe because all the available firefighters were trying to save lives, homes, millions of dollars worth of livestock or property. I was not present at the fire pictured but I am a volunteer on our local fire department. Not all of our members have PPE. The ones that do bought and paid for the PPE with their own money. We don’t have available funds to buy all members PPE. In our area and most areas of West Texas we are lucky to have personnel to man the fire trucks. On more than one occasion I have answered a page, went to the station and started our 1962 model brush truck and been the only person to be in the area and able to answer the fire call. Ray, let me ask you this. If a wildfire were approaching your home would you stop the crews and not let them in until they presented their training certifications and were wearing certified PPE?? Most people in our area of West Texas at least are grateful that these people put their lives on the line to save their lives or even yours if they needed to. I think you made the comment “Sounds like a normal season on Hotshot crew”. Are hotshot crews not paid for there great service? Are hotshot crews not paid for the many hours of wonderful training they go through? Do hotshot crews not wear state of the art PPE that is paid for by the Government agency or firm that writes their paycheck? Are the news reports of the many hotshot crew members that are tragically injured, some even fatally each year incorrect?
        Ray you and others commented on the four fire fighters that were injured in the Panhandle. Do you know if they were wearing PPE or not? I do know that the accident involved one crew coming to the aid of another crew when the first crew’s truck became stuck in sandy soil then horribly both trucks became struck in the path of the fire. My source is amarillonews.com . Were those trucks getting stuck in the sand a result of the volunteers not wearing PPE or lack of training? NO! it was a tragic accident! Our prayers go out to those HEROS, not our criticism.
        No volunteer in Texas has a death wish. No volunteer in Texas fights fire with a hose in one hand and a beer can in the other. And Ray when the volunteers are again asked to come to your state to assist you with a tragedy of any kind, Don’t worry we will be there. And if you would like to put your money where your mouth is I am sure you could send a donation to the Texas Volunteer Firefighters Association. You could even earmark it for PPE.
        A West Texas Volunteer Fireman.

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        1. West Texas,

          I have been a Vollentter Firefighter in that area of Texas. I offerd to give the local Fire Dept’s free Wildland fire Training and even was able to get a grant wrtier to help. The responce I recvied was; thanks but no that this is how we do it and your not needed. I have seen this in more places then just Texas. If I was not putting in 10hr days 14 days strigh here at home I would be on an Engine in Texas right now. Yes Hotshot crews are payed and ungo the training, most of them I know would love to vollentter and help, however lots of red tape is in the way of a lot of great folks being able to come help. Texas Does not like outside help nor accecpting new ways of fighting fire. my question about the firefighters that where burned, Why were they not in the Black? Why did they not have A water in there tank left to protect themseveles? Ever hear of letting some air out of the tires to get traction in Sand. I hear it works wonders. Its easy to point fingers and judge. I have stated this is a National probelm that affects even large fire depts with big budgets. Unless Folks are willing to change and look at new ways of gettign things done. US firefighters will countie to sie and get hurt due to red tape and poltics at some level.

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          1. Ray,
            Thank you for solidifying my points for me. Again if you would care to put your money where your mouth is you can go to http://www.bcffa.net/ which is the web site for the Big Country Fire Fighters Association. Bigcountryhomepage.com along with the TV stations KRBC and KTAB are hosting a fund raiser to benefit area fire departments. I am sure your help will be greatly appreciated.
            May God Bless you Ray, May God Bless the Fire Fighters, and Most of all May God Bless the victims of the West Texas Fires.
            PRAY FOR RAIN OVER WEST TEXAS!
            Hayden

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  9. Nothing will happen until someone gets burned or dies from their burns. Obviously this is how business is conducted in Texas.

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