Firefighters battle 200-acre grass blaze
Faith Huffman | News-Telegram News Editor

Sept. 10, 2004 -- Grass fires kept firefighters from Hopkins and Rains counties hopping Thursday, trying to keep ahead of the spread.

Overall, firefighters in Hopkins County responded at four different locations Thursday where grass fires were reported, including a 200-acre hay field fire which required assistance from two Rains County fire departments and Texas Forest Service and threatened one residence.

When Arbala Volunteer Fire Department Capt. Brian Fairchild first arrived at the 200-acre fire on County Road 1194 near the Hopkins-Rains county line, he noted a large area of land was ablaze, and the fire was spreading into the trees and toward the pasture owner's residence.

"I could see the fire was heavy and into the brush," Fairchild said. "It was in 200 acres, the owner said. We couldn't get the brush truck in. I called for Emory and Point. [Hopkins County Fire & Rescue] was in Pickton on a grass fire there. I called for the Forest Service to [bull]doze a line around the outside of the owner's land to keep it from making it out to the next land over."

When firefighters' efforts to enter the fire and begin attacking it stalled, firemen used their brush truck to push 200 freshly rolled bails of hay out of range of the blaze until the trench could be dug around the perimeter to contain the fire. A fire break was made around the residence, as well.

Once the Forest Service arrived, the situation was turned over to them to monitor. The fire, which spread 15 to 20 feet into the nearby cedar trees, was allowed to continue burning with the area watched for potential spreading past the fire lines.

"Arbala fire department really appreciates the help from Emory and Point, and station 20 [Hopkins County firefighters] who we turned command over to after they cleared the Pickton fire and arrived. Everybody did what needed to be done, falling right into place, and got the job done. The owner did not even lose one bale of hay."

Hopkins County fire crews also battled fires on County Road 2401 in Pickton, on State Highway 11 at FM 2389, and another just south of South Liberty.

With no rain in the forecast anytime in the near future, drought conditions in Hopkins County are expected to continue worsening over the course of the next two weeks.

Currently, the county remains at 595 on the Keetch-Byram Drought Index, with some areas estimated to be as high as 657 and others as low as 508, with those numbers expected to escalated into the 600 to 700 range within the next two weeks.

The KBDI ranks ground moisture on a scale of 0-800, with 800 being worst drought conditions. A ranking of 0-200 means that the soil moisture is high and there is low fire danger. A 200-400 ranking is a moderate fire danger area, where smoldering and smoke carry into and possibly through the night. Areas with a ranking of 400-600 are in high danger of fire, with some areas expected to burn or smolder for several days creating smoke and possible control problems. Areas in the 600-800 range face extreme fire dangers, such as stumps burning tot he end of their roots under the ground and dead limbs on trees igniting from sparks. Each 100 on the KBDI represents an inch into the ground that does not have moisture.

With such dry conditions projected, local residents can reduce the chances of grass fire and blazes by limiting burning to necessary blazes and exhibiting caution by monitoring the blaze at all times and keep a sufficient water supply handy when burning. No burn ban had been enacted or discussed as of Friday morning, but caution is advised.

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