Pictured: Alice Fire Department brush trucks continued to douse the flames near U.S. Highway 281, in an attempt to gain control of the fire. Firefighters spent more than two hours battling the flames Wednesday afternoon. MAURICIO JULIAN CUELLAR JR.

Wednesday fires keep firemen busy

Mauricio Julian Cuellar Jr., Alice Echo-News Journal

Four fires raged Wednesday afternoon within close proximity to one another along U.S. Highway 281 north, the largest being near the Alice Landfill requiring the assistance of six fire departments.

Calls came in to the Alice Fire Department shortly before 3 p.m., reporting a grass fire off of Highway 281 and County Road 117.

The flames consumed more than 10 acres, rapidly spreading from the center of the field to the fence line. At the same time, a small fire started on the other side of the U.S. Highway 281 relief route, less than a half a mile away.

Also at that time, Orange Grove Volunteer Firefighters responded to a grassfire in the vicinity of U.S. Highway 281 and County Road 225, some 15 miles from the Alice fire. A fourth fire erupted that same hour in the Castillo Street area on the west side of Alice.

With four fire brush trucks handling the major U.S. Highway 281 fire, along with two water tanker trucks and a fire engine, the department was stretched thin.

Fire departments from San Diego, Sandia and Bishop were called in to help. The Premont Fire Department brought trucks in as reserve in case another fire erupted because of dry conditions and strong winds.

Orange Grove Volunteer firefighters quickly extinguished the County Road 225 blaze and hurried to the U.S. Highway 281 fire, with brush trucks and water trucks.

The trucks continued to circle the burned area, as new flames grew from the wet, smoldering ashes. Jim Wells County Sheriff's Department deputies regulated traffic around the site, as Alice city dump trucks continued to bring in loads despite the flames a short distance away.

Guardian EMS was also at the site, in the event that firefighters needed medical attention.

The men on board the brush trucks all wore breathing apparatuses to protect themselves from the thick black smoke, which was visible for at least 30 miles in all directions.

By 5 p.m., the fire departments had the north end of the U.S. Highway 281 fire under control, and the other fires had been extinguished.

Large red signs are located throughout the county, including County Road 225, to remind residents that a burn ban is in effect for Jim Wells County. Alice Fire Chief Dean Van Nest said the U.S. Highway 281 fire is still under investigation.