East Texas a 'tinderbox' say firefighters

LONGVIEW, TX (KLTV) - By Bob Hallmark - bio | email
Posted by Ellen Krafve - bio | email | Twitter

LONGVIEW, TX (KLTV) - East Texas is a tinderbox. Firefighters say the dry conditions we are experiencing are perfect for a wildfire to spark and quickly spread.

In the last week, there have been three woodland fires on Pliler Precise and the Glenwood area near Longview and on the Smith County line just south of Gladewater.

East Texas fire departments are bracing for the worst and hoping to get a little help along the way.

"Some of these things can go 8 - 16 hours before we can relieve people, and that does put a strain because they're down for several hours trying to recoup," explained Jim Nall, the White Oak Volunteer Fire Department chief.

If a fire breaks out within city limits, water is usually at the ready. When you get out of town, and firefighters start facing challenges.

Trees and grass are starved for water and any little spark can set if off. A big fire can tax the resources of every fire department.

"I've got to say the fire service in general is a little more on edge because we recognize the threat," said J.P. Steelman, the Longview Fire Department chief. "The potential is definitely all around us...Our conditions right now are as extreme as they have been in some time. The index from the Forestry Service indicates that we're going to be suffering from this for weeks to come."

Woodland fires require tanker trucks and most departments are short on them. Volunteer departments are usually called upon to get to the fire first.

"Volunteer fire service is usually short staffed from the 8 - 5 hours every day and that's usually a challenge for us to get enough people out," said Nall. "[We] call in mutual aid. Yeah, it puts a strain on especially the small departments."

"Not only do they usually hurt for the manpower that it takes to combat one of these fires, but sometimes it calls for an excessive amount of equipment that we have to pool from all over the area," said Steelman.

Thirty acres have been torched in Gregg County, another 40 in Smith.

The Texas Forest Service has already sent bulldozers to help, and are making plans for more.

"The Forestry Service has paid such close attention to it that they're starting to pre-position some aircraft and additional resources to the East Texas area in the event that these fires start to break out," said Steelman.

Fire chiefs have a simple request for public help.

"We want to encourage people not to burn at all now," said Nall.

We spoke with the Texas Forest Service Friday who confirmed that they are sending an air unit to assist in the case of wildfires. They will be stationed in Angelina County starting Saturday.

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