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50 calibers hinder firefighting

By Judith Pannebaker BCC Editor

County firefighters got more than they bargained for when they arrived on the scene of a recent structure fire in Precinct 4 - aka the "west end" of the county.

According to Bandera County Fire Marshal John Stith, efforts to extinguish a blaze reported on Wednesday, Sept. 11, were hampered by exploding ammunition - some of the 50 caliber variety. "The unoccupied house was being used as a hunting cabin and ammunition was being stored there," Stith said. The building was located between Utopia and Vanderpool at the end of Cornelius Road, off Panther Hill Road, which is off FM 187. The owner, a physician, was not in the area when the fire occurred.
The blaze was called in at 3:58 pm and Utopia Volunteer Fire Department arrived at the scene at 4:15 pm. Fire Chief Jody Rutherford served as incident commander. Because the structure was fully engulfed when they arrived, firefighters fought grassfires and protected other outbuildings on the property.
Utopia firefighters requested backup from Vanderpool VFD, under the direction of Chief Doug King, who also serves as commissioner for Precinct 4. At that time, assisting firefighters were advised that ammunition was going off as the fire continued to burn.
"We were ducking for cover," King said in an interview on Thursday, Sept. 12. "Shells were exploding everywhere." As he explained, "50 caliber shells are the kind snipers use when they sight targets a mile away." According to King, this is not an uncommon occurrence during structure fires in the Hill Country. He said the most spectacular one occurred because of black powder stored in the safe. "The powder blew the door of the safe off and it landed about 100 feet away," King recalled.
According to Stith, by the time firefighters arrived, the structure was fully involved and by the time he got there, "the only thing left was the tin roof on the ground."
He determined the fire had originated at the backside of the house, but its cause remains undetermined. "The fire was accidental, but not suspicious," he said.
Firefighters left the scene at 6:27 pm and no injuries were reported from either the blaze or the exploding ammo; however, this incident gave new meaning to the phrase "firefight."

Pictured: Precinct 4 Commissioner Doug King shows one of the 50 caliber shells that had ignited during a recent structure fire in the west end of Bandera County. King also serves as fire chief for the Vanderpool Volunteer Fire Department.