Recent fires have opened community's eyes

Ofelia Garcia Hunter, Alice Echo-News Journal

Ben Bolt residents are in the preliminary stages of establishing a volunteer fire department for the community, especially after the recent close call with a 60-acre fire.

"It was already in the works," said Fire Marshal Patrick Thomas, who resides in the Ben Bolt area. "(The fire) just happened to open their eyes."

Thomas and several community members gave a presentation to the Jim Wells County Fresh Water Supply District and are in the process of gathering interested individuals to serve on a committee to spearhead the project.

"The plan right now is to form a committee of community members to sit down and come up with all the rules, guidelines and work on how to get funding and get the paperwork sent out to the state," Thomas said.

He said he wants to emphasize that the Ben Bolt Palito-Blanco volunteer fire department will be a "community effort."

Thomas said the Ben Bolt fire department would be an addition to what the county already has.

"The goal is not to create a fire department to replace the Alice response area, what we want to do is supplement that," he said. "We would have more manpower and more people trained and another resource for the county."

Thomas said the process of creating a volunteer fire department could take the rest of the year to implement.

"I don't foresee fighting any fires this year," he said.

Juan Martinez, a Ben Bolt resident who resides on County Road 167, said the idea of a volunteer fire department is essential.

"We are the only community who doesn't have one," Martinez said. "It's something we need…I'm a little too old, but I'll do what I can."

Martinez said Thomas and his brother-in-law, Juan Rodriguez, an ex-firefighter, had been tossing the idea around for about a month before the Ben Bolt fire that threatened almost 300 homes in the area.

The group is hoping to join efforts with other entities to gain support for the volunteer fire department.

"We want to meet with county leaders and the school district in the near future to gain their support," Thomas said.

Melida Rangel with the water district said such a department is long overdue.

"I think it's a good idea, it's long overdue," Rangel said. "The Ben Bolt fire is fresh in everybody's mind and we need to continue with it. The people that attended the meeting on Monday are all for it."

Individuals interested in being part of the fire department committee or becoming a volunteer firefighter in Ben Bolt can contact Patrick Thomas at 562-7181.