Firefighters from around the area were able to save 10 Red Oak homes from the path of a grass fire that broke out Wednesday afternoon.
Emergency crews were dispatched at 1:15 p.m. to the 100 block of Shelby Circle.
“While en route we saw a pretty significant column of smoke. So we knew we had a substantial incident prior to us arriving. I was the first one there, and there was fire extending over to about 10 properties,” Red Oak Fire Chief Eric Thompson said. “The fire was burning between the homes. All of the backyards were on fire. So we had exposure problems. We probably had about 10 homes where a fire burned right up to a couple of feet to the home.”
Thompson stated that there were vehicles, small outbuildings, and fences on fire.
After sizing up the situation, assistance was requested from neighboring departments that included Waxahachie, Glenn Heights, and Ovilla. Lancaster firefighters filled in at Red Oak’s station to answer incoming emergency calls. Residents were evacuated from their homes as a precaution but also aided crews on the call.
“There were a lot of residents that were really helping us because the fire was so spread out,” Thompson recalled. “They were helping us by utilizing garden hoses, and anything (else) to keep the fire off of the houses until we could get resources at the location.”
Thompson stated that the forward progression of the fire was stopped by the location of the road. Firefighters were able to use the road as a barrier, which had no fuel source like grass. This allowed crews to focus their efforts on protecting exposures.
Fire engines were spaced out and used to protect the homes. The brush trucks were used to fight the boundaries of the grassfire. Firefighters and residents reported no injuries. The fire was brought under control within an hour, and units cleared the scene at about 4 p.m.
Thompson said the fire destroyed several fences, two outbuildings, and five vehicles. Around five acres were burnt. Property loss from the fire is estimated at $10,000—$15,000.
The cause of the fire came from a fire that escaped a burn barrel. The resident using the barrel was not cited by the Ellis County Fire Marshal’s Office. County commissioners rescinded the burn ban on Dec. 29.
“A homeowner was burning in a burn barrel that did not have a screen on it. It also had a hole in the bottom of it and also had no bottom to the barrel. The fire escaped the barrel and started to burn,” Thompson explained. “This time of year all of the fuels are dormant and are very dry. All of the conditions are ripe for that type of fire situation and that is what we experienced yesterday. We were seeing low humidity, increase in fuels, and dormant fuels. That is a recipe for a significant wildland or grass fire burn.”
Thompson advises residents that under the current conditions not to burn items unless it is absolutely necessary. If residents do have to burn, he suggests taking several steps to keep everyone safe such as not leaving a fire unattended, having a water hose or extinguisher at the ready, and pay attention to current weather conditions. He also suggests inspecting the burn barrel before using it.
“Your burn barrel should have screens on top of it. Make sure that they are not rusted out and are solid. It is also recommended that it is clean around the barrel, the grass is cut around the barrel and that it is not sitting directly on the grass,” Thompson said. “They (the barrels) need to sit up on some type of concrete block. That way you don’t have direct radiant heat that can set the grass on fire.”
County Fire Marshal Tim Birdwell previously stated the fire marshal’s office does not approve any burning permits. Residents who need to burn items should consult the Texas Outdoor Burning laws. These laws created by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality defines what can be burned, when burning can take place, and where residents can conduct burning of specific items. The burning laws are on the located the fire marshal’s page on the county’s website.
“Just be careful. If you start burning out there and you burn someone’s property you are responsible for it civilly. They can come back in civil court and file on you,” Birdwell previously explained. “Be careful. That is number one priority there on anything your burning.”
For more information about the Texas Outdoor Burning Laws go to the county’s website at www.co.ellis.tx.us and click on the link for the fire marshal’s office.
Residents who have questions can reach the staff at the fire marshal’s office at 972-825-5555. The fire marshal's office is in the Ellis County Courts and Administration building located at 109 S. Jackson Street in downtown Waxahachie.