14-hour blaze may have started as a controlled burn

Ofelia Garcia Hunter, Jim Wells County Correspondent

Officials from the area visited the 12,000-plus acres off Highway 285 to evaluate the 14-hour blaze last week that was fought by about 30 fire agencies, including the Alice Fire Department, fire officials said.

"With the wind (Jan. 29) and being red flag day, it didn't help, along with the dense fuel load with extreme amount of grass due to an earlier wet season," said Chief Dean Van Nest with the Alice Fire Department as to why they had trouble controlling the fire.

"Local authorities should be out today to evaluate. They will be using state resources to make a fly-by to evaluate exactly the size and determine if there are any other fire threats."

The estimated 20 square mile area, which is situated in parts of Duval and Brooks counties, started about five miles north of Highway 285 at 2 p.m. Tuesday and continued burning about five miles south of Highway 285, Van Nest said.

Van Nest said it hasn't been confirmed, but he had heard that it started with a controlled burn.

Despite the long hours of fighting the fire, Van Nest said the department was fortunate that no one was injured.

"We were very fortunate that we didn't have any injuries and fortunate that we didn't lose any structures," he said.

Fire departments from as far away as McAllen, Pharr, Laredo, San Patricio County, Kleberg County, Starr County, along with locals from San Diego, Premont and Benavides, assisted with the massive flare up.

"I felt last night that this was an unprecedented event because of the large size and the cooperation that we received from the different counties and state agencies," Van Nest said. "We brought it all together and made it work. We had a significant response, this was one of the largest in my 30 plus years."