USA — The Magnolia Beach Fire Chief was getting ready to go to the hospital Sunday for burns on his arms and face when he got the call.
The grassfire he had battled all day Saturday had reignited for the second time Sunday and was threatening a gas station.
Fire Chief Chad Tamlin, a volunteer, immediately left to fight the fire off Margie Tewney Road for the third time in less than 24 hours.
“We thought it was heading toward the gas station, so we attacked it and pushed it the other direction. This is the biggest fire I’ve ever been on,” said Tamlin, the exhaustion evident in the seasoned firefighter of 10 years.
Though the fire did not damage any structures or cause serious injuries, it took more than an hour to get under control with assistance from Port O’Connor, Port Lavaca, Six Mile and Port Alto fire departments.
An estimated 20 acres burned Sunday afternoon, in addition to about 300 acres that burned Saturday, Tamlin said. About 100 people were evacuated Saturday from Alamo Beach and Magnolia Beach as the massive fire inched closer to the Matagorda Island Liquid Separation Plant, which contains natural gas.
John Tackett, a retired resident of Alamo Beach who lives across from the plant, said he quickly left when he realized how close Saturday’s fire was to the plant.
“The fire had just reached the fence line of the plant when I got home. If the flames had got to that plant, this would be a vacant lot,” Tackett said, pointing to his home. “The police swept through here like the wind and got everyone out. They didn’t let anyone slow down. I grabbed my dog and my heart medication, and that was it. I left.”
Tackett got back to his home Sunday morning after staying Saturday night in a hotel in Port Lavaca.
Charles Hessong, a Magnolia Beach resident, chose not to evacuate Saturday, however, as he desperately sprayed water on his lawn and his neighbor’s lawn with a water hose, even as the 15-feet high flames crept closer by the second.
The flames got within 140 feet from his house. But the heat and smoke didn’t stay as far back, he said, and were overwhelming as he worked.
“I said, ‘Oh Jesus help us.’ The firemen were out there working so hard, and I just grabbed the water hose. I just had to do something,” Hessong said.
Hessong said he did not even think about how close the fire was to the gas plant during the chaos.
The flames came within feet of the plant Saturday, having already crossed the fence line, Tamlin said.
His crew and crews from Port Alto, Port O’Connor, Six Mile, Seadrift, Port Lavaca and Cape Carancahua battled the fire Saturday.
They didn’t stop for hours, he said, but he took just a moment to call his wife and tell her to get their kids out of Magnolia Beach altogether and drive to Victoria.
“I went to check the plant, and sure enough, it was within a few feet. I called everyone off the structures and told them to get over here, because if this thing blows up there won’t be a neighborhood left,” Tamlin said.
Magnolia and Port Lavaca firefighters were also on the scene Sunday about 11 a.m., when residents first started to report hot spots catching fire.
The grassfire reported Saturday in DaCosta in Victoria County, which burned about 350 acres, also experienced hot spots and flare-ups on Sunday, said Victoria County Fire Marshal Ron Pray. However, the fire remained under control and no additional acreage was burned.
Saturday’s fire in Magnolia Beach, which started about 2 p.m. and took several hours to extinguish, may have started when trees got too close to electrical lines, Tamlin said.
Everything is so dry, however, almost anything could have started the fire, he said. Tamlin hopes people will pop their July Fourth fireworks between the crabbing bridge and Indian Point on Magnolia Beach to avoid another incident.
“We need rain. We need rain bad,” he said, staring at the still smoking field.