One hospitalized by blaze
By Stephanie Parker
A fire that started in a burn barrel off Oil Well Road in Pipe Creek at approximately 3:30 pm on Sunday, Aug. 10 fanned into flames that burned across 60 acres and engaged seven Bandera County volunteer fire departments, Bandera County EMS, DPS and the Texas Forest Service. One person was sent to the hospital with second and third degree burns.
Bandera County Fire Marshal Ralph Dresser said a renter in a house off Oil Well Road, in the Castle Lake Subdivision, was burning trash in a barrel that was covered with a fine-mesh wire screen. The trash fire was left unattended. Embers blew through the screen and caught dry grass on fire. The resulting blaze was picked up by the wind and sent racing wildly out of control, burning mostly in Kerr County but accessible only through Bandera County. While attempting to extinguish the growing fire before help arrived, the renter was burned. Bandera County EMS transported him to the hospital.
Bandera County is not currently under a burn ban. A burn ban remains in effect for Kerr County. Dresser said that the fire provided an opportunity to remind Bandera County residents that even though there is currently no burn ban, they need to take all necessary precautions before burning-even in a covered burn barrel. “It needs to be covered with a fine wire mesh. Wet down the ground around it before starting the fire. And never leave a fire unattended.”
On Sunday, the fire ran up and over a steep hill, encompassing rugged terrain. “Fire goes up a hill four times faster than it comes down,” Dresser said to explain the fast-spreading blaze. “Heat rises. The steeper the slope, the faster it burns. It went up the other three-fourths of that slope and moved up over the top in less than an hour. When it got to the other side, it spread out.”
Winds Sunday afternoon were at 10 to 15 mph with gusts up to 20. Dresser said that when the fire got away from the point of origin, it went up the hill at a 15-degree angle and plowed through a mile of Kerr County.
Volunteer fire departments from Bandera County included Castle Lake, Pipe Creek, Medina, Lakeshore, Tarply, Bandera and Medina Lake. Pipe Creek Fire Chief Shane Keese was the incident commander for the north side of the blaze and Medina Fire Chief Shane Keese was the incident command for the south side. Kerr County volunteer fire departments from Center Point and Turtle Creek also responded to the blaze.
Dresser called in the Texas Forest Service. They sent four aircraft; a heavy lift helicopter-excellent for hilly terrain, a four-engine turbo prop to drop fire retardant, a twin engine to act as an on-scene air controller and a small single engine plane to watch the fire scene while the larger air controller refueled. DPS sent a fixed-wing plane but it was turned back to clear the air space for the other aircraft already present.
Several Bandera County EMS units were also stationed at the fire on both sides of the blaze.
Constable Phil Tobin helped control access to the scene. Local construction company owner Jim Chastain donated his bulldozer services. “That was vital,” Dresser said, “for helping to control the fire and for providing access in that bad terrain.”
Aircraft left the area by 8 pm while the Castle Lake Volunteer Fire Department firefighters kept and all-night vigil on the fire. Dresser attributed the success of bringing the fire under control to local volunteers. “They are a real well polished and teamwork machine. They included volunteers with the fire departments and EMS and other volunteers who showed up to help.”
Before 3 pm on Monday, August 11, the fire rekindled violently. Castle Lake, Pipe Creek and Bandera Volunteer firefighters were called back to the scene to battle flames that leaped 25-35-feet high. While hoping that would not happen, Dresser had predicted it. He said burning embers on the hills Sunday night lit up the night like a fiery Christmas tree. “When the clouds burned away and the temperature went up and the humidity went down,” Dresser said, the fire rekindled. The message here is how quickly fire conditions change with the temperature, winds, relative humidity and the condition of the fuel. James Chastain came back out with his bulldozer and stopped the fire. He stopped the fire, then he covered it up so it wouldn’t rekindle. He did it right.”