Llano County fire departments with assistance from a number of other area crews responded to a string of 14 grassfires on Tuesday, May 17, along a 20-mile stretch of Texas 71 East. Units remained on the scenes at two of the larger fires Thursday, May 19. Staff photo by Dakota Morrissiey
Another grass fire popped up along Texas 71 and CR 308 on Thursday, May 19, as firefighters continued working to contain 14 fires that broke out along a 20-mile stretch of the state highway between Marble Falls and Llano on Tuesday. Two of the original 14 wildfires remained a concern Thursday, though one, the Slab Road Fire, is 90 percent contained. The other, the Sandstone Mountain Fire, is 60 percent contained, according to an early morning update by the Texas A&M Forest Service. The cause for both was determined to be roadside ignition.
The Forest Service updated the size of the Sandstone Mountain Fire to 351 acres. It was previously estimated at 600 acres. The Slab Road Fire was estimated at 57 acres, according to the service’s Walter Flocke.
The newest blaze, the Twin Starts Fire, started at about 2 p.m. Thursday. It was about 420 acres and was 75 percent contained as of 9:30 a.m. Friday, May 20, the Forest Service reported.
The first 14 fires broke out along Texas 71 toward Llano near RM 2233 and county roads 306, 307 (Slab Road), and 309. About 110 personnel from 13 fire departments along with firefighters from the Texas A&M Forest Service responded to the blazes, which started Tuesday, May 17.
“The first call came in for the fire at 5 p.m. (Tuesday),” Llano County Judge Ron Cunningham told DailyTrib.com. “We had 14 different fires covering approximately 20 miles, and they all were separate fires on the highway.”
The fire units deployed approximately 50 pieces of heavy equipment, including bulldozers, maintainers, and Brush Hogs, to battle the blazes. The Forest Service also used a spotter aircraft and Fire Boss single-engine air tankers in the effort.
According to the Forest Service, one structure was threatened during the fires, but local resources saved it.
The service described current fire activity as “minimal” as of Thursday.
“Crews from TAMFS Marble Falls IA, Lost Pines Task Force, and the Texas Interstate Fire Mutual Aid System (TIFMAS) Strike Team 157 will remain on the fire today to build and improve containment lines, mop up interior hotspots, and patrol,” according to the Fire Service’s May 19 update at 8 a.m. “The weather continues to be above-average temperatures with low humidity and high winds, conducive of elevated to near-critical fire weather.”
Crews fighting the fires were in need of water and electrolyte drinks to stay hydrated and safe. The Highland Lakes Crisis Network and Hill Country Auxiliary collected and distributed bottled water and sports drinks during the worst part of the fire. Both groups are urging continued donations to local fire departments to help units be prepared for the next round of fires.
“It’s early in the fire season,” said Kevin Naumann, director of the Highland Lakes Crisis Network. “They stood us down for immediate water needs for this fire, but with weather conditions the way they are, more fires are coming. We are prepared to take on more supplies so we can be ready.”
The Crisis Network is accepting donations of bottled water and sports drinks from 8 a.m.- 4 p.m. Mondays-Thursdays at its office, 700 Avenue T in Marble Falls.
“I’m afraid this summer could be really bad for our firefighters,” said Amanda Barnett, auxiliary secretary. “We have some (donations) left over that we will hold on to until the next thing comes around. It’s always needed.”
In a Wednesday, May 18, media release about the fires, County Judge Cunningham praised everyone’s effort in fighting the blazes.
“We are extremely grateful for the relationships we maintain among our fire departments, which work together in mutual aid agreements to protect our homes, ranch lands, livestock, and exotic game,” he stated. “We are also fortunate to have the volunteers who donated their time, resources, water, sports drinks, snacks, and meals for the approximately 80 people who worked late into the night and again today to ensure the fires are contained.”
Both Burnet and Llano counties are under outdoor burn bans.