BRISTOL – Firefighters from around Ellis County responded to a grass fire that burned approximately 350 acres on Wednesday afternoon, and caused a smokey smell to spread across the county Thursday morning.
Emergency crews received the call about 2 p.m. about a fire located near Union Hill Road and Farm-to-Market Road 660.
“We do have it more than 85 percent contained right now. We lost one barn and two small buildings. No homes. The fire did get close to some homes, but the firefighters were able to stop it,” said Stephanie Parker, the Ellis County Emergency Management Coordinator at press time Wednesday. “Right now, we have no injuries. No heat exhaustion. We have the American Red Cross on scene doing rehab (services) for our firefighters.”
Parker said the Texas Forest Service, which brought a bulldozer in to make firebreaks to help contain the fire. Firefighters from Bristol, Alma, Telico, Ennis, Ferris, Garrett Rural and Bardwell fire departments assisted on scene. Residents were not evacuated from the area, Parker said.
Fire Chief Eddie Miner, Bristol Volunteer Fire Department, said the last brush truck cleared the scene at 11 p.m. but firefighters have remained on fire watch to treat hot spots. Miner expects Bristol firefighters to clears the scene sometime on Thursday afternoon.
“Bristol will be doing fire watch all day but the forestry service as soon as they do a complete fire break around the area they are going to clear with their bulldozers and head back to Waco and Greenville,” Miner said. “The cause of the fire is undetermined at this time.”
Miner said the fire did set off ammunition that was stored in one of the two small metal buildings but no body was injured. Miner added that he wanted to thank all of the fire departments as well as the Texas Forestry Service for their assistance on the call.
Assistant Fire Chief Ricky McElhaney, with the Palmer Volunteer Fire Department, said the dry weather conditions made the fire difficult to fight.
“We got out there and started hitting grass and keeping it off the houses. There were two that we kept it off of,” McElhaney said. “With the dry weather like it is, there was enough breeze to move it on faster than what we could catch up with it. “
McElhaney said the fire was down in a lot of brushy areas, which made it difficult to get to. Water tankers were used to bring water to the scene from the nearest hydrant, which was a quarter of a mile away, located at the FM 660 and Union Hill Road intersection. Palmer firefighters cleared the scene at about 6 p.m. Wednesday.
According to the National Weather Service of Fort Worth, Thursday was prime for high fire weather conditions across North and Central Texas because of hot temperatures, low humidity levels and south to southwest winds of 10-15 mph with higher gusts up to 25 mph.
“We will be hanging on to some similar conditions for the next couple of days with pretty dry afternoons of low humility. Tomorrow, we will have some breezy winds behind a weak front in the morning,” said meteorologist Matt Stalley, with the National Weather Service, on Thursday. “Winds will turn around to the northeast tomorrow and will still be in that 10-20 mph range for a good part of the day. That, combined with dry conditions, will keep our fire danger elevated.”
Stalley said it is not unusual to have these conditions in October.
“When we start getting into this pattern, kind of a more active fall pattern where we get these cold fronts in here if there is a lot of dry air behind them like we have seen, it really starts to ramp up our fire concerns during this part of the year,” Stalley said. “That is exactly what we have seen with these dry, cold frontal passages in the past couple of weeks. They just bring in dry air and no rain. So it is a pretty favorably set for higher fire danger.”
Stalley advises residents not to burn outdoors and not to throw cigarettes out of the window of their vehicles because conditions are right to start a pretty substantial wild fire. Also if residents see smoke or fire, it is important to report that immediately, Stalley said.
A burn ban for Ellis County is also still currently in affect at this time, meaning residents cannot do any outdoor, controlled burns or trash burns.