Hopkins County among 170 Texas counties in emergency state declared by President

By FAITH HUFFMAN, News-Telegram News Editor

March 17, 2008 - Hopkins County and some of its neighbors were among the counties this weekend which the President Saturday declared to be in a state of emergency due to wildfires which have plagued the area.

A red alert was declared in the area in January, disaster sufficient to warrant a month long burn ban put in place Feb. 11. The ban was lifted March 10 due to improved drought conditions, but county officials warn conditions should still be monitored as a fire lit in remaining dry, dead vegetation will burn across the area as if fueled by gasoline, Hopkins County Judge Cletis Millsap said Monday.

While conditions have improved, with Hopkins listed in the very low drought and fire danger ranges, county firefighters still are responding to an average of two fires a day.

Fire damages have strapped those who have had large areas of property burned. That coupled with the ever increasing cost of fuel, particularly diesel which most fire apparatus use, have made the last few months especially taxing for Hopkins County fire and the county's volunteer fire departments, according to Millsap.

County officials will soon be in contact with FEMA officials made available to Hopkins and the 169 other counties listed in the emergency declaration issued by the President.

"State officials said Saturday that more than 133,000 acres have burned since high temperatures and strong winds made Friday one of the worst for wildfires in recent years," according to Millsap.

"The President yesterday declared an emergency exists in the State of Texas and ordered Federal aid to supplement State and local response efforts in the area struck by wildfires beginning on March 14, 2008, and continuing," the press secretary said in a prepared release this weekend.

The president in the declaration authorized the Department of Homeland Security's Federal Emergency Management Agency, "to coordinate all disaster relief efforts which have the purpose of alleviating the hardship and suffering caused by the emergency on the local population, and to provide appropriate assistance for required emergency measures, authorized under Title V of the Stafford Act, to save lives and to protect property and public health and safety, and to lessen or avert the threat of a catastrophe" in the 170 counties, the release notes.

Other area counties listed in the declaration are Hunt, Delta, Lamar, Rockwall and Rains counties.

The county's main concern is attempting to capture funds to cover the added expenses the fire departments have been out in fuel costs during the time of wildfire danger.

"We hope to be able to access the funds to limit the amount we are out in fuel, out in diesel. We hope to have some of it reimburses. Brinker volunteer fire department just advised me that they were out $3500 extra in fuel costs. Those are un-budgeted expenses. County fire departments are really having to dig in to meet the needs. We hope to get some reimbursement, like in the $10,000 range for Hopkins County."

He said that having a full time member of Hopkins County Fire Department on duty 24-hours day to monitor and take over all fire and emergency calls following the initial dispatch by sheriff's deputies helped with response during the fire danger and continues to be an asset. They coordinate all first response calls.

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