When lightning leads to fires

Posted on 15. Aug, 2012 by

The rain has been a welcome sight the last few days, but the storms that brought that rain have caused trouble as well.

When we have an extended period of dry conditions, a storm with cloud to ground lightning is a recipe for fires. Usually, those lightning strikes happen in rural areas – maybe a tree is struck by lightning, or a tank battery – and that starts a grass fire. Or sometimes it hits a structure, such as the home near Rhome that was struck by lightning last week.

The large fire on Unit 21 of the LBJ National Grasslands was started by lightning, although it wasn’t your usual lightning strike fire. Lightning struck a tree sometime Sunday evening when a line of storms swept through Wise County – the same line of storms that caused damage throughout the county with high winds. The fire didn’t start right away, however. It smoldered in the tree overnight and into the next morning. U.S. Forest Service District Ranger Erik Taylor said that as temperatures rose Monday, the fire began to spread. As of yesterday, the fire had grown to more than 500 acres. To put that in perspective, last year’s large fire in the Paradise area was 200 acres.

Taylor said that a “stroke of luck” occurred Monday afternoon. Chris Schenck, the new Forest Fire Management Officer for the National Forests and Grasslands in Texas, was driving from Idaho to east Texas when he saw the smoke from the fire. He stopped by the Grasslands office in Decatur and found himself assigned as an incident commander.

Taylor was very appreciative of the help the Forest Service has had on the fire including fire departments from Alvord, Greenwood/Slidell, Sunset, Forestburg, Decatur, Paradise, Chico, Lake Bridgeport and Bridgeport. Other resources include three contract Type 6 engines, two federal Type 6 engines (Forest Service and Fish and Wildlife Service), one contract dozer, one county dozer, one Forest Service dozer and one Bell 206 L1 helicopter.

Here’s what Taylor had to say to those who helped, including local property owners:

“I would really love to see a word of appreciation for the folks that assisted on the fire. Without these dedicated men and women, things could have gone sideways. They were extremely professional, diligent and knowledgeable of the resources, terrain and fuels. They should be commended.

“(Also) a word of praise for those folks that practice defensible space around their property. We black lined around two structures this afternoon that were adequately prepared. Stressing to folks the importance of defensible space would be a great educational tool for the community. The preparation of wildfires is also best served through prevention and education rather than enforcement.”

When you see photos like this:

Hopefully people will heed Taylor’s words and be prepared for the next big fire as well.

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