USA — A fast-moving wildfire that broke out Wednesday afternoon west of Robert Lee has already burned 2,500 to 3,500 acres of grassland. The fire started on the Dos Amigos Ranch south of State Highway 158 and headed north across the highway to the Circle C Ranch, causing the Texas Department of Transportation to close the road.
As of 6 p.m., the Dos Amigos Fire was zero percent contained, but several structures have been saved. Numerous gas well sites and one Silver gas plant at risk have been shut down. An estimated 400 fire personnel, several aircraft and countless trucks and bulldozers were attacking the fire.
The Dos Amigos Fire was reported 18 miles west of Robert Lee, at a size of over 3 miles north to south and 1 mile across, said Coke County Chief Deputy Randall Jacks. It extended from east of the Sterling County line to near Farm-to-Market Road 2059.
“It’s hot and there’s a lot of fire,” Jacks said from the scene.
Temperatures reached 105 and winds were gusting 25-35 mph, making fighting the fire rough. Rugged terrain is making some of it impossible to reach from the ground, Jacks said.
“Most of the fire is up in the hills where firefighters can’t get to it,” he said. “The Texas Forest Service air attack is dropping chemicals, and that’s the only way we’re able to fight it. We also have a lot of civilian personnel helping out.”
Private gas companies were being contacted by authorities, and by 6 p.m. their tanks were all shut down, Jacks said.
At one point, the fire was less than 6 miles from the WTG Jameson gas plant to the northeast, in Silver.
“It won’t shut down until the last minute, but it’s not in any threat now,” Jacks said.
The Perkins gas plant, west of Silver off of FM 2059, was shut down in the afternoon.
“Fire units are staged around tank batteries,” Jacks said, “to ensure the fire won’t get near them.”
Besides the Texas Forest Service, volunteer fire departments were assisting from Robert Lee, Bronte, Quail Valley, Sterling City, Carlsbad, Water Valley and Maryneal.
The National Weather Service said winds Wednesday afternoon were steady at 9 mph with gusts up to 20 mph and 15 percent humidity.
At 6 p.m., the southerly winds were shifting around, messing up the bulldozers’ firebreak strategy, Jacks said.
“As soon as they cut a fire line, the winds change and move the fire across it,” he said. “But we’ve got airplanes and helicopters doing all they can. With structures still threatened, a lot of our assets are protecting them.”
One ranch house was separated only by “a matter of feet” from the fire, the chief deputy said.
Scattered thunderstorms were being reported to the north, he said. But the National Weather Service dashed any false hopes of local rain.
“The thunderstorms are in Scurry and Mitchell counties,” said meteorologist Seth Nagle. “There is no front moving into the Coke County area.”
He said that even where there was rain, the hot and dry conditions prevent the rain from doing much good on the ground.
“Much of the rainfall to the north is evaporating as it falls,” he said. On a more positive note, he anticipated no significant wind shift a possibility that had worried firefighters.
“If the winds shift out of the north, the fire could move toward more populated areas,” Jacks said.
Coke County residents are still reeling from the recent Wildcat Fire, which began April 10 and scorched 25 percent of the county.
“We’ve already had folks bringing water and food out for the firefighters,” Jacks said.
Although there have been no injuries, some firefighters are getting overheated.
“We have a call out to the Red Cross to bring a trailer out here, so our guys can cool off,” Jacks said.
“We are praying for rain, and hoping by midnight we can get home.”