For several weeks, the Texas Forest Service, volunteer fire departments, and firefighters from other states have been fighting fires that have been rampant in several areas of the state. Last week, devastating fires in far West Texas burned much of the Fort Davis area. A fire that started north of Marfa, Texas, took only 20 minutes to reach Fort Davis, located 21 miles away. As of today, the Texas Forest Service reports at least 800,000 acres have burned. Several homes, businesses, property, and a church have been destroyed by fire. A firefighter from Eastland, Texas, lost his life when he and others exited their truck; he was hit by either a vehicle or a piece of equipment. Visibility was limited because of heavy smoke, so at this time, the Texas Department of Public Service is classifying this incident as a traffic fatality, pending further investigation.
We live in a small rural area in North Central Texas, and wildfires have come within 30 miles of us. A community eleven miles west of our town was evacuated on Friday as a result of nearby fires. Because this has hit very close to home, it makes us aware of how seriously we must prepare for the safety of our families. We should have emergency supplies (water, flashlight, non-perishable foods, medicines, important papers, etc.) on hand, and know what we will take with us if we have to leave quickly.
If Mother Nature would wave her magic wand and send rain, while stopping the gusty winds for a while, both firefighters and homeowners would be very grateful. The dry terrain and low humidity levels combine for fires just waiting to happen. Ranchers have lost livestock ,and much wildlife is gone. In an article in today’s (Sunday) Ft. Worth Star-Telegram, writer Bud Kennedy’s headline is “Just one cigarette is all it takes to inflict a world of damage.” According to the Texas Forest Service, humans start 9 in 10 wildfires. Kennedy goes on to say that any spark can burn a town, taking with it homes, dreams, and sometimes, firefighters’ lives. In Texas, the punishment for tossing a lit cigarette is only a littering ticket. However, Texas’ arson law includes felony punishment for anyone whose cigarette recklessly sets fire to a building or injures anyone. Arson is a second-degree felony in Texas, punishable by two to 20 years in prison, but if a person is hurt or killed or if the fire involves a church, arson is a first-degree felony, and the arsonist can face up to life in prison.
Many firefighters are volunteers – they risk their lives every time they are called out. They are trained to use their equipment to save lives, homes, and properties of their neighbors. When things become as serious as they are right now, other firefighters step in to help. The Texas Forest Service reports that there are around 1,250 personnel on the ground now, including firefighters from 34 states. Our firefighters will do the same for them when they are called. We, as citizens, must be vigilant in preventing fires when weather conditions create dangerous situations. We appreciate the hard work they are doing. The next time you see a firefighter, give him or her a big THANK YOU! (And, pray for rain!)
Sources: Ft. Worth Star-Telegram, Texas Forest Service