High winds down power lines, fan grass fires Area still under a 'red flag' wildfire danger warning

By FAITH HUFFMAN, News-Telegram Crime Reporter

Jan. 30, 2008 - High winds and dry conditions swamped local firefighters and dispatchers Tuesday afternoon, resulting in sporadic power outages around Sulphur Springs and grass fires burning about 15 acres of land.

Hopkins County Fire Chief Carl Nix asks that local residents observe the high fire danger warnings and refrain from burning anything outdoors until conditions improve enough that the "red flag" caution can be lowered.

Those who need to burn are asked to exercise extreme caution while doing so outdoors, and be especially aware of windy, dry conditions.

"In the right conditions, any kind of small fire can be catastrophic," Nix said Wednesday morning. "We just ask that you be careful and be observant of conditions."

High winds were blamed for mutltiple power outages around the city of Sulphur Springs. Sulphur Springs City Manager Marc Maxwell said Sulphur Springs Fire Department responded to close to a dozen calls connected to the high winds, with gusts reaching 46 miles per hour at the Sulphur Springs Airport.

"They ran 11 calls yesterday afternoon, everything from downed power lines to grass fires, but mostly downed power lines," Maxwell said today. "They earned their paychecks."

County firefighters, both paid and volunteer, responded to three grass fires at about the same time Tuesday, spreading responders thin and requiring mutual aid from other nearby departments.

Two of Hopkins County fire department's off-duty firefighters came to work without being asked. Listening to the calls being dispatched, they realized departments for certain areas were already involved with other calls. The off-duty firefighters manned a reserve engine so that no one would have to leave the existing fires.

One of the blazes, on County Road 2301 at County Road 2174, was caused when the wind felled a tree into a power line, which caught fire and caused a power outage. Another on County Road 4771, which burned across five acres, was also caused by a downed power line.

Just after 1 p.m., county firefighters were dispatched to FM 1537 and State Highway 19 south, and a third was reported on CR 4767 at about 2:30 p.m.

The SH 19 south fire encompassed about five acres and spanned both side of the highway but spread into a nearby wooded area to include about 10 acres.

At least five local fire departments responded to calls. Firemen from Point, Emory and East Tawakoni offered aid on SH 19 at FM 1567. Texas Forest Service brought in a bulldozer to help contain the fire at the wooded area.

After an initial inspection of the area, firefighters said the fire appeared to have been caused by a cigarette butt that had apparently been thrown out along side the road, as it originated in the ditch.

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