Texas Forest Fire Strike Team in South Texas

Melissa Cantu Trevino
Alice Echo News Journal

Have you seen the weather alerts about red flag warning these last few days? The warnings are important because these are the days where fires can start easily and spread quickly, said Patrick Thomas, Alice Fire Chief and Emergency Management Coordinator.

With fire season started a team of 15 firefighters from the Texas Forest Service called a Strike Team have set up a station in Alice to help provide air and ground support should a huge fire break out in Alice or surrounding communities around South Texas.

Firefighters from the Texas Forest Service are stationed in Alice to assist Alice Fire Department and surrounding communities during fire season.

"They're a team of firefighters that have a different resources other departments can benefit from. This one has boulderers, heavy equipment and an airplane with a bucket. They're a multi-use team we can use if a wildfire should break out," Thomas said. "What's driving these fires? This is weather is driving fires like today, we are under a red flag warning. The humidity level has dropped really, really low, we have dry air that came in with the cool front and, on top, of that we have all the vegetation that froze is now dead and dry. That's what fuels the fire."

Winds over 10 or 20 miles, the dry grass is gonna burn and the wind is there to push it turning into "big, fast moving, fast spreading fires."

"These fires concern firefighters cause time is essential and we need to be able to get to the fires quick and try and knock them out as fast as we can. If not, they will get really big and will be difficult to control," Thomas said. "We are centrally located so it's a good place for the strike team to be stationed here. They can get down to the valley pretty quick, go back up north, or (east) to (side) depending where they need to go. We have seen an increase in fires, grass fires specifically, not just in Jim Wells, but in Duval and Brooks Counties."

Thomas said the Alice Fire Department have been getting grass fire calls daily even to assistance counties like Kleberg and Kennedy.

"All fire departments are struggling to keep up. We are really excited to have some relief coming in from the forest service in case we need that resource should a fire break out," Thomas said.

Normally, when it's not fire season the Texas Forest Service resources are staged up north. The crews that are in Alice are from the Abilene/Panhandle area.

"You could see that that would take a long time for them to get here if we were to have a fire and need their resources. Having the stategicially stationed and prepositioned here is really a great benefit for us," Thomas said. "We don't have the financial resources to have our own plane. The bull dozers, they have, make firebreaks so that when the fire gets to the firebreak the fire will turn itself off. The airplane has a bucket under it filled with flame retardant to drop over a fire. Different tactics that we don't normally use because we don't have the tools."

Every minute counts especially when dealing with fire. The longer it takes to get to a fire, the faster the fire will spread. Several rural areas have had to combat the big fires because of delays.

"By the time firefighters get their, especially if you have a volunteer fire department, the fire has become so big making it harder to combat. Alice has firefighters stationed at three stations and trucks around alice to help and decreasing response time when every minute counts," Thomas said. "Some of these fires could have easily been prevented. Like yesterday, this guy was innocently burning something, the fire spread to his trailer and burnt up some of his home."

Don't forget the Jim Wells, Duval and Brooks Counties are still under burn bans.

Thomas urges people to not burn anything unless you get a permit and permission, but don't get mad if commissioners deny the permit because it's all about safety. 

"We are asking the citizens to help us, help you," he said. "We want to make everyone aware that it's dangerous right now and fires can start very easily and spread really fast right now. We need them to be vigilant. Don't park on dry grass, don't burn anything. Just be vigilant and practice safety when doing anything that could cause a fire like welding. Keep in mind that everything is really dry right now."