Fireworks cause massive brush fire

Fireworks cause massive brush fire

2 January 2008

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USA — A youngster playing with fireworks Dec. 22 is believed to have caused a massive brush fire that scorched at least 500 acres of land along Old Corpus Christi Road just north of here, said Bexar County fire officials.

First to respond to the scene were firefighters from the Harmony Volunteer Fire Department. According to Harmony’s chief, James Frank, firefighters from 21 fire departments in Atascosa, Bexar, and Wilson counties responded to the blaze, which eventually crossed Gillette Road and made its way into Wilson County.

The unidentified child had been lighting smoke bombs near La Gloria Road just before the fire broke out at approximately 12:21 p.m., said Orlando Hernandez of the Bexar County Fire Marshal’s office. Hernandez said his office is currently consulting with the Bexar County District Attorney’s office to determine whether charges will be brought against the child.

High winds fanned the flames as they roared through a construction site along Old Corpus Christi Road, which sent workers fleeing. Firefighters from the Lone Oak Volunteer Fire Department arrived just as flames had encircled a house the men were building. The firefighters were able to save the house, but the fire kept spreading.

“We had zero structures lost,” Frank said. “The brave men and women who fought this fire managed to save approximately 21 homes.”

Frank said volunteers from his fire department did not return to the station until 10:20 p.m.

Hernandez said one home sustained minor damage to its exterior siding.

As the fire continued to cut its wide and aggressive path, it threatened a cattle ranch located near the intersection of C.R. 163. Workers at the ranch attempted to drive the cattle away from the flames and towering plumes of smoke. It is unknown if any animals were harmed as a result of the fire.

Hernandez said two firefighters were treated for smoke inhalation and later released.

Also responding to the fire were personnel from the Bexar and Wilson counties’ sheriff’s departments and the Texas Department of Public Safety, and Wilson County Pct. 1 Commissioner Albert Gamez Jr.

Dry conditions

Recent dry, windy weather conditions have aided in the spread of fires throughout the region. According to Larry Eblen of the National Weather Service’s New Braunfels office, only 0.94 inches of precipitation have been measured at Stinson Airport in San Antonio since the beginning of October, including 0.18 inches since Dec. 1.

“The last time this area received an inch of rainfall was on or about Sept. 4,” Eblen said.

Several fires have stretched the resources of area volunteers in recent weeks. According to Edwin Baker of the Wilson County Health and Public Safety Office, firefighters throughout Wilson County responded to at least 20 fires during a nine-day period from Dec. 18 through Dec. 27. Because of the high concentration of fires in such a short time, many of them are still being investigated as to the causes.

One such fire occurred Dec. 21 behind La Paloma Ranch off C.R. 112 near Fairview, where approximately 700 acres were consumed. This was one of at least five fires that broke out throughout Wilson County that day, including a group of fires near C.R. 319 outside La Vernia that Baker said are “very suspicious in nature.”

“The fires weren’t along the same stretch of road, as if it were caused by a passing vehicle,” Baker said. “They may have been set.”

Wilson County Sheriff Joe Tackitt Jr. said his department is actively investigating the fire, but a cause has not yet been determined.

Firefighters from the Poth Volunteer Fire Department also responded to a fire Dec. 21, off C.R. 205 southwest of the city. Poth’s chief, Lawrence Jansky, said a welding torch left in a work trailer caused this fire.

“[The owner of the trailer] said he had been working on something earlier, and thought he had put everything out,” Jansky said. “By the time he had noticed the fire, it had gotten into the grass and burned some acreage.”

A welder caused another fire outside the Alum community Dec. 26, Baker said. The Alum fire, which burned 25 acres and 48 round bales of hay, had firefighters from the Stockdale Volunteer Fire Department in service for more than eight hours. Baker said no charges have been filed in this incident.

Christmas Day was interrupted for some firefighters from the Poth Volunteer Fire Department, who had to respond to a fire off C.R. 228 near Kosciusko. Fire Chief Jansky said a man lighting smoke bombs in his unpaved driveway caused this fire.

A burn ban has been in effect for Wilson County since Dec. 10. Outdoor burning is only permitted in a screened burn barrel during daylight hours, and should never be left unattended. Sheriff’s deputies will issue citations to those caught participating in illegal burning.

Use of aerial fireworks —rockets with tails and missiles with fins — is illegal during a burn ban. Those violating the fireworks rule will be charged with a Class C misdemeanor and fined up to $500.

In order to prevent the spread of future brush fires, Baker also recommends residents cut their grass short.

“You shouldn’t have any tall grass within 50 feet of your home,” Baker said. “You should keep a water hose handy at all times and not do any unnecessary outdoor burning. If you do burn, make sure not to leave it unattended until the fire is completely out.”

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