Fire torches more than 1,400 acres

July 6, 2009 5:20:22 PM PDT
Firefighters continue to work to put out a forest fire that started Saturday in Columbus in Colorado County. Firefighters say they are making progress against the blaze. More than 1,400 acres have been burned over near the town of Columbus, off I-10.

This is the main command center and all afternoon firefighters have been responding to hot spots from this location. There are more than 100 men and women working out here, many to save houses in the fire's path.

Kenny Frank considers himself lucky. Others may call him smart.

"I've got an irrigation system and I just lined all the water sprinklers up in front of the house," said Frank.

He says the sprinklers saved his home from the raging wildfire. Flames came within 100 feet of his front door. He watched the fire wall inch closer.

"We could see flames, we could see the smoke boiling and roaring so loud. Getting so close we had to get out before we got trapped in here," said Frank.

There's only one way out to the main road from Frank's house and within minutes, the fast-moving flames circled his property, his home threatened by a ring of fire. You can see the flames stopped where the grass starts.

"When I came back and saw the house, I was like, 'Thank god.' It's still here," said Frank.

Less than one mile up the road, the Hollubs were not so fortunate.

The fire swept through the woods and pounced onto the Hollub's weekend home. They lost everything.

"That'd be the stove, microwave, double sinks. We had a safe upstairs," said Case Hollub.

The Hollubs say there was nothing of great value in the home, but when it's reduced to rubble, you always wish you could get it all back.

"It's an empty feeling. I mean, I grew up here," said Andrea Hollub.

The Hollubs say they love this place so much they will rebuild. Perhaps they'll use neighbor Kenny Franks' idea and moisten their yard with a sprinkler system.

In addition to the Hollub's home, we understand the fire destroyed a camp house, two storage buildings and a stock trailer.


SUNDAY'S STORY

Several local fire departments, in addition to the Texas Forest Service, are attacking the fire from both the ground and the air.

We're told at least 50 percent of the fire is contained. Families in nearby homes that had been voluntarily evacuated over the weekend have been allowed back in. Crews battling the flames have encountered problems in the afternoon.

"Weather conditions in the mornings have been very manageable," said Columbus Fire Chief Bob Walla. "The problem we have is when the wind picks up in the afternoon and starts to swirl and change directions. It's causing a lot of problems. Where the forest service has gone in and bulldozed fire lanes and the fire gets up in the top of the pine trees, and the wind changes, it's jumping those fire lanes and we've had a little problem controlling that."

Fresh from the front lines, firefighters told us they've been vigilant too as the battle the growing fire.

"You gotta watch your back. Make sure it doesn't come up behind you. When we're on the road, there's only one way in and one way out, so you have to watch your back constantly," said Weimer Firefighter Shawn Sisbeck.

With temperatures near the blaze on the rise again today, fire departments are keeping an eye on their own firefighters for signs of exhaustion and dehydration. So far, two firefighters have been treated for either heat exhaustion or dehydration.

"Some of the homes, the fire did burn right up to it," said Capt. Dodie Dungen of the Columbus Fire Department.

With a blaze this big, sometimes firefighters admit their efforts seem futile.

"You're putting a very small amount of water on a very large fire and it's hard to knock it back," Capt. Dungen said. "You wonder if you're even doing any good sometimes."

Despite those feelings of frustration, firefighters say they've only lost one weekend home, one camp home and one flatbed trailer. Those damages are considered minimal for a fire of this size.

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