Multiple agencies respond to 1,000 acre fire near Talpa

Staff Writer
Runnels County Register
The "Weymeyer Fire" burned over 1,000 acres near Talpa, TX on Sunday. The tall, dried grass combined with a lack of rain and low humidity contribute to the rapid spread of wildland fires.

Over the weekend multiple Volunteer Fire Departments (VFD) responded to a wildland fire near Talpa, Texas. The fire, referred to as Wehmeyer fire, ignited sometime around noon on Sunday and wasn’t extinguished until after midnight.

The Ballinger Fire Department issued a press release regarding the fire, “At approximately 12:30 p.m. Ballinger was dispatched to a wildland fire off Highway 67 towards Talpa. The fire was extremely erratic with changing winds and heavy vegetation with a mixture of fresh cut wheat fields. Multiple calls for mutual aid were requested including: Rowena VFD, Coleman, Talpa VFD, Valera VFD, Winters VFD, Santa Anna VFD, Burkett VFD & Texas Forest Service (TFS). All of these units left the scene around 12 a.m. midnight and the fire was estimated by TFS at just over 1000 acres with loss of one out-structure and one mutual aid fire unit apparatus. No injuries, just a lot of very expensive repairs to be made by all departments to their fire apparatus.

Special thanks to the following for offering their personal services Byler Dirt Construction, Alcon ranch, Runnels County, Minzenmayer Farms, IGA Shoppin Basket, Robby Cook, King Brothers, Big Water transport from Winters, Jeff Smith Family /KRUN, Mr. Bredemeyer, & the Ischars and Langstons for bringing fuel . Also a very special thanks to the ladies ( Landers, Kresta, Ischar and kiddos) that set up the rehab area and dispersed drinks and food.”

The fire apparatus that was destroyed was a 2.5 ton truck that belonged to Texas Forest Service (TFS). The truck had a blowout and while the crew was changing the tire the fire approached their location and forced them to leave the area.

The Texas Forest Serivce has a task force, Task Force 1, that is stationed in Brown County.

The ignition at the Wehmeyer Fire was caused by people target practicing with metal targets. Even the tiniest spark can ignite a catastrophic wildland fire when conditions are as dry as they are now.

Robert Langston is a captain with the Ballinger Fire Department and spoke of the response to the Wehmeyer fire, “We had 3 bulldozers out there from TFS. Russell Byler also brought his dozer so that gave us 4 dozers with which to fight the fire. We also had 2 boss-trucks. 508 Battalion Chief Dustin Kresta was Incident Commander IC over the fire.”

Byler, who owns Byler Dirt Construction, had employees respond to the Wehmeyer fire as well as another fire in Robert Lee recently. Byler talked about the way they helped with that fire, “Jimmie Dyer, Ryan Born and Zack Haynes pushed fire breaks at Robert Lee starting Saturday at 8 p.m. till 4 a.m. then on Sunday from 7 a.m. until noon. Then I was on the phone with Brandon Fulton who told me he was headed to get his skid steer to try and protect his bees and cattle so I called my guys to ask them if they would go help with the Talpa fire. Ryan born and Jimmie Dyer are former Texas Forrest Service fire fighters, so of course they are going. Unfortunately I was in Oklahoma and felt helpless, I’m usually on the back of a truck or in the dozer.”

Many don’t realize the cost of fighting a fire or the effort required by numerous people to fight or support those fighting the fires. At the Wehmeyer fire, Jeff Smith of KRUN radio and several of the fire fighters’ wives set up a canopy and served donated food as well, water and Gatorade.

In addition to the property they destroy, wildland fires also take a toll on the equipment that the VFDs use at the incident. Langston says that the Wehmeyer Fire caused significant damage and loss, “At a guess there is probably $60k in damage to trucks including the one Department of Defense 2.5 ton ”Duece”, an oil cooler, two pumps, 9 tires, air lines, fenders, light bars, two transmissions, etc.”

While VFDs can apply for grants every year, their local fundraisers are highly important. The fundraiser money can be used to send fire fighters to required training, to pay for online classes and to purchase or repair damaged equipment.

It was not the first fire that the department has handled recently. Langston said that on Thursday the department responded to a fire on a farm, “It was a trash pit fire that got out of control. The pit was constructed properly, exactly how they tell you to do it, but everything is so dry right now that the fire got out of the pit and started burning along a fence line. The fire got close to the home but we were able to stop it before it burned the home.” One reason that the fire fighters were able to stop the fire is that the homeowners kept everything around the home mowed so there wasn’t a significant amount of fuel for the fire to feed on.

One aspect of wildland fires that everyone should remember is to stay out of the area where a fire is burning. Recently, people drove out to a wildfire and the traffic on the county road made it difficult for the various agencies to get to the location of the fire. Typically, there will be tractor-trailers hauling heavy equipment such as bulldozes responding to the fires. The larger the fire, the more equipment they need to bring in. There are also other large vehicles, such as the large 5-ton trucks, 2.5 ton trucks, pump trucks, water trucks and command vehicles that will be responding, in addition to the local law enforcement agency vehicles.

The wildfire danger is extreme now. According to the TFS website, https://tfsweb.tamu.edu/CurrentSituation/, the forest service has responded to 19 requests for help battling wildfires since Friday, June 12th. According to TFS, there have been 75 fires in the last 7 days that have burned 15,222 acres. There is a large wildland fire in Coke County that TFS is calling the “McDaniel Fire.” That fire ignited on Saturday and as of Monday morning was still only 30% contained. The fire has burned over 3,200 acres.

According to the TFS website they are currently battling and assisting with 21 fires across the state.

Wildland fire prevention begins in the fall and winter when humidity levels are higher after rains have taken away significant potential for fires to get out of control. Langston says that it’s not too late to take precautions now, a point that was reiterated at the recent burn pit fire, “We had a wildland fire that was approaching a home. The yard was kept up well with no weeds or tall vegetation to feed the fire. The fire approached the home but we were able to stop it before it burned the home. A well-kept yard or other area around your house can turn a ’running fire’ into a ’creeping fire,’ and possibly save your home or other structure.”

Langston says that there are several steps that people can take throughout the year to help guard against Wildland fires and to help prevent fires in your home:

1. Take Away the Tinder

During The wildfire season: be sure to regularly sweep away fire-happy materials such as dried leaves and pine needles around your property.

2. Create ‘Fuel Breaks’ On Your Property

Fuel breaks, such as gravel pathways or driveways, can act as a barrier to keep fire away from your property. An easy way to add a fuel break is by replacing wood chips or dried grass that is frequently used as pathways and instead use gravel or another fire-resistant material. Keep fence lines cleared of any and all growth and try and have a dirt break created by a bulldozer or road grader of at least two passes. Keep this area sprayed to keep down any kind of vegetation growth.

3. Decorate With Safety in Mind

Use fireproof or fire-resistant materials whenever you can. Here is a short list of some fireproof and fire-resistant materials to consider: Stone, concrete, treated limber plywood, mineral wool, potassium silicate, metal or flame-retardant roofing. These materials might not be as elegant as real wood, but they’ll help keep you safer in the face of danger.

4. Controlled Fires

Fire doesn’t have to be your enemy. Controlled fires are frequently used by forest management to get rid of underbrush to give budding plants more room and nutrients. Controlled fires are frequently used on properties with pine trees, as pine trees are resistant to fire.

By using controlled fires to burn away the debris, there will be less fuel for any potential wildfires to feed on. This will significantly reduce the damage to your land.

5. Trim Your Trees

Dead or low-hanging branches are the most venerable to wildfires. Be sure to always trim these branches, especially the trees near your house or farm. Then make sure to remove what you trim from the property.

6. Keep debris and clutter picked up.

Most of the time stacks of flammable materials tend to stack up next to structures. Examples such as firewood, pallets, small to medium propane tanks for BBQ pits, and general miscellaneous debris.

7. For those that use propane tanks for homes

Propane tanks need to have a zero percent tolerance for debris, vegetation, etc. Use rocks or other fire resistant materials to create a safe zone around these tanks and keep these areas sprayed to limit vegetation growth.

For anyone who wants to assist with donations to help with repairs from yesterday's fire or just help support your local VFD here are their contacts :

Ballinger VFD, PO Box 133, Ballinger Tx.76821

Winters VFD, 310 S Main street, Winters Texas 79567

Miles VFD, PO Box 184, Miles TX 76861

Rowena VFD, PO Box 155, Rowena Texas 76875

Talpa VFD P.O. Box 285 in Talpa, TX 76882, in care of Rusty Ryan.

Coleman VFD, 117 North Concho, Coleman Texas 76834

Valera VFD, PO Box 63, Valera Texas 76884

Santa Anna VFD, PO Box 711, Santa Anna Texas 76878

Burkett VFD, PO box 356, Burkett Texas 76828

An updated Texas Forest Service map shows the locations of fires currently burning in the state.