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Friday, April 15, 2011

Wild Fires Across the Range

The evening skies of the Trans-Pecos country rest with the ambient rays of brilliant orange color as the sun sets each night. Although, the early part of April found the sky glaring its burnt orange from raging fires which spread across Texas. 

Lana Grubb Hickok, former Miss Rodeo USA 1992, today resides in Crawford, Texas. She grew up in Fort Davis.  Saturday evening Lana received a phone call from her 92 year old grandmother who explained that the town of Fort Davis was being evacuated due to wildfires. The family members where heading too the McDonald Observatory operated by the University of Texas for safe refuge. Lana's father, Judge George Grubb, of Jeff Davis County managed the Observatory for 25 years before becoming the county judge. Most nights are filled with star gazing, though the night of April 9th, folks who took shelter at the observatory witness the nasty fires that streamed across the west Texas horizons. 

Volunteers have assisted the fire departments working throughout the night into the following week minimizing the damages. Of those volunteers was also Lana's dad, who assisted several cattle ranchers move herds to safety and combat the fires with the dozens of town folks from Fort Davis, only to return home finding his 100 year old barn and several out-buildings completely destroyed by the fire. Although Lana's dad was more fortunate than her long time friend, Ginger Fisher who lost her home and a barber shop which had been operated for decades by Ginger's dad before he passed away a few years back. Other properties like the renown McKnight house was left in ruins. As one could feel the heartfelt sorrows, Lana continued about life long friends of Fort Davis as she felt helpless. "When we were kids, we would imagine living in the beautiful mansion, The McKnight House.  It was a dream house!  Now ruins. Another special house destroyed was the Carlton House. This really tears my heart as the Carlton family has been life long friends with the Grubbs for over five generations. Their home too, was a Texas landmark." When questioned about wheelwright and chuck wagon enthusiast, Glenn Moreland, Lana replied, "I know Glenn and Patty really well. I haven't heard anything yet from them, but pray they and the many others are alright."

The fire started just north of the Big Bend Nation Forest in Marfa, Texas.  The brutal winds pushed the fire from its origin across the hills and ranch lands, engulfing everything in its blazing path.  Emergency Management quickly announce for personnel to safely evacuate the region as volunteer fire fighters gathered to battle the raging fires. The Fort Davis National Historic Sight has not seen a drier spring season since 1895. Extreme wildfire dangers continue across many states due to a pervasive drought conditions, high temperatures, high winds, and low relatively humidity. 

Don Witte, who makes his winter home at Fort Davis, understands the dangers of wild fires. He spends his summer months at his second home located in Boulder, Colorado. Last year, during Memorial Day weekend, Colorado wild fires destroyed his garage and neighbors home.

Bob Dillard, editor of the weekly Jeff Davis County Mountain Dispatch stated, "It was just horrific.  Buildings, homes and live stock all on fire." Another report stated, "One horse's hide was in flames and was doused with water to put the fire out. Although the horse suffered such server burns, it was then shot on location after a quick evaluation."  

"A chard cow laid alongside the road" states news reporter Sterry Butcher, Big Bend Sentinel.  RV parks, camp grounds and hiking trails closed and motorist evaluated the area. The smoke could be seen for miles upon miles often blinding the highways sparing little through it's path. Heirlooms and keepsakes forever lost. Many families now left without their homes, clothes and belongings. 

Embers continued burning through Saturday night. The hills and Davis mountain side was lined with the  glowing fires which would continue smoldering into the following week. Electrical power and telephone service lost made communication difficult, now slowly being restored as crews work around the clock to restore life back to normal in the Davis Mountains.  Sandi Billingsley is one of many volunteer firefighters for Fort Davis. “We have people donating things all over. They have been nothing short of generous.” Items needed still are food, water, blankets and clothing. Also donations can be made to the Jeff Davis County Relief Fund

The West Texas wildfires have decimated more than 165,000 acres, destroying nearly 40 homes in Fort Davis alone. While firefighters work to extinguish the immediate threat, the true hardship begins for those families who have lost their homes and belongings.  The Jeff Davis County Relief Fund has been established to help the families and the victims of the National Emergency Rockhouse Fire. Donations will go specifically to help the families and victims of the wildfires. These families are hard working people who for generations have lived in their homes built by their ancestors. 

Other areas across Texas have been plagued with wild fires. Linda Hannifin from Midland, Texas watched fires burn about five miles from her home. "From what I have read and seen on the news, they have been put out in this area. However, it seems like there are new ones that spring up every day," stated Linda. She posted several of the photos with a face-book link to the Texas Hill County Magazine. 

Tongue River Ranch, owned by Millard Morris of DeRidder, Louisiana begins their annual calf round-up during this time of year. Even fires have been seen across the ranch which includes areas in both the Texas panhandle and Northeast New Mexico. Ranchers across the state work to gather herds and live stock moving them to safer ground.  Fencing along several highways collapse as the post turn to ash allowing cattle to wonder across roads.

Lisa Hanson of Moore, Oklahoma was house sitting for friends in Guthrie, Oklahoma during the first weekend of April. Departing early Monday morning on April 4th for work back in Moore, Ok where she is a special education teacher, she found traffic slowing down on interstate highway 35 as she headed south towards Oklahoma City. "The whole side of the road was in flames." states Lisa.   "The Highway Patrol had just arrived slowing traffic as you headed into the smoke. Sad to say that it seemed like a cigarette butt might have been the cause since the fire was burning right along the shoulder of the interstate. Pretty senseless and thoughtless act. Especially with the wind and all the warnings during this dry spell." 

However, the dangers are not exhausted just in the United States. Northern Mexico too has suffered several wild fires already during the 2011 season and has asked for support from the US Government assisting with aircraft and equipment. 

Each year, an average of 1.2 million acres of U.S. woodland burn due to wild fires which 4 out of 5 wildfires are caused by people. The U.S. Fire Administration's reported that in 2005 alone, 66,552 wildfires took place and 8,686,753 acres were burned. They encourage to be prepared having a family emergency plan that includes having important documents ready and knowing your planned evacuation route. For more information concerning planning, visit the ready government web site Be Informed.   

As the many volunteers work putting these fires out, their tireless efforts too save lives and property is heroic.  These thousands of men and women who take risks and helped others every day. Some gave their lives in the line of duty.  The volunteers come from all walks of life. Hair stylist to Cowboys, Waitress, to county Judge, they all deserve a special thanks. 

As for Fort Davis, an anonymous person climbed atop Delores Mountain Wednesday night, stated Lana. "They cleaned the blacken ash off and white washed the sign (Fort Davis) along it's edge that's seen entering the town.  It is a wonderful thing to see that you can't keep the families of Fort Davis down for long! I think everyone spiritually got a boost from it!"

To volunteer, provide donations or contributions, please refer to the following links:

Texas Department of Agriculture: Austin, Texas  (512)475-1615 "STAR Fund"  www.tscra.org

The Permian Basin Area Foundation also is accepting charitable donations from larger foundations, send to: Jeff Davis County Relief Fund, c/o Permian Basin Area Foundation, 200 N. Loraine, Suite #500, Midland, TX 79701  or on line through Jeff Davis County Relief Fund
Live stock flee from Texas Wild Fires
Historic McKnight Home before Fire
Remains of McKnight House destroyed in Fort Davis Wildfires


Fire of Fort Davis
 





 

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