State called to help battle 500-acre fire

The Texas Forest Service was called in to help local firefighters battle a brush fire that burned 500 acres in eastern McCulloch County Saturday. Believed to be caused by a lightning strike, the fire was located on 4K property on what used to be the Don Neal ranch near Rochelle. The fire threatened three homes and took more than 24 hours to extinguish. Rochelle and Brady fire departments responded to reports of a large grass fire around 1:30 p.m. Saturday. As personnel moved toward the area, heavy smoke indicated a much larger fire than expected and additional units from Placid, Voca and Lohn were called in for reinforcement. According to Eddie Sayles with the Brady Volunteer Fire Department, the fire and smoke had spread quickly and steady winds gusting to more than 30 miles per hour fanned the flames. “The weather conditions made fighting the fire rather difficult,” said Sayles. “Texas Forest Service was called in, and they arrived just before dark with a bulldozer crew from Granbury that was used to plow a containment line. “We had a maintainer from Precinct 4 working out there, but those machines are not made to do that kind of work. The terrain where the fire was ranged from flat fields to rough and rocky hills. Had we not gotten the fire line cut, things could have been a lot worse.” The Regional Fire Coordinator with the Texas Forest Service also responded to the scene to offer additional tactical expertise. “We had several trucks from each department there helping us, and we received additional support from several ranchers with their private equipment,” said Sayles. “Once we got organized, things went well and everyone worked together to get the fire contained and knocked out. We could have had more help from the Forest Service, but all of their resources are tied up with an 11,000-acre fire near Albany.” With most of the county’s resources committed to fighting the fire, Melvin and Mason fire departments were put on alert to handle any additional calls. “Some of our volunteers were on their way to the fire when we were paged out to a possible drowning at Brady Lake,” said Sayles. “Luckily everything turned out fine, and it was a false alarm. “The wind had apparently blown a man in a raft across the lake and his family could not find him. When he was found, he was walking back across the dam carrying his raft with him.” Dry weather has prompted numerous counties to take proactive action with hopes of minimizing accidental fires. Of the 254 Texas counties, 56 have implemented burn bans, with more likely to be issued this week if weather conditions continue to deteriorate. “We have to keep our guard up. The rain was nice, but it was not enough moisture to alleviate the high fire danger,” said Traci Bowen, Texas Forest Service Wildfire Prevention Specialist. “Rain does not rescind the burn bans’that’s up to the county commissioners. Grass dries out rapidly and may carry fire as soon as an hour after rainfall.” Only Llano and Menard Counties have issued burn bans in the surrounding area. Until significant rainfall has been received and vegetation in the area greens back up, TFS officials recommend the following precautions: Postpone outdoor burning. Avoid parking or driving through tall dry grass. Hot catalytic converters on cars also can ignite dry vegetation. If welding or using metal-grinding equipment out of doors, remove vegetation from the work area and be sure to water down the surrounding area. Keep a fire extinguisher readily available. Properly dispose of cigarettes and other smoking materials. Watch out for rocks or metal when mowing or bush hogging to avoid sparking a wildfire. For a current map of counties with burn bans in place, visit http://www.tamu.edu/ticc/prevention.htm

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