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Wildfire strike teams on standby in tinder-dry Highland Lakes

Alamo Strike Team at The Athletic Club in Marble Falls

Out-of-area firefighters (from left) Jacob Mitchell of Randall County Fire Department, Ethan McCollun of Canyon Lake, John Kinkaid of New Braunfels, and David Keene of Canyon Lake, The Athletic Club owners Fermin and Asa Ortiz, and firefighters Andrew Almonzar of New Braunfels and Justin Murdock of Canyon Lake. The Alamo Strike Team members were working out for free at the Marble Falls gym while on standby for wildfires in the area. Courtesy photo

Firefighters from across the state and country have been deployed to the Highland Lakes to lend a helping hand as wildfire risks persist in the region. The so-called strike teams are here by order of the Texas Department of Emergency Management and the U.S. Forest Service.

“There’s a huge fire danger, and they (TDEM) don’t want the whole state to burn like it did in 2015,” said John Kinkaid, a firefighter from New Braunfels with almost 20 years’ experience. “They’re positioning trucks all across the state.”

Although many of the firefighters are strangers to one another, nothing builds bonds more quickly than fighting fires, Kinkaid said.

“As soon as you get your first assignment, that’s when you become friends, because you’re all working in the trenches together to put out a fire,” he said.

Kinkaid is part of the roughly 30-man Alamo Strike Team, which consists of firefighters from the Canyon Lake, New Braunfels, and Randall County fire departments. The team has been stationed in the Highland Lakes for over two months.

“We’re covering all of the Central Zone,” he said. “We’re stationed here, but we’ve been to Bastrop, Llano, Cedar Park, and San Marcos. Those are all the fires we’ve been on in the last while.”

Other strike teams in Marble Falls are from even farther away, including Maryland and California.

“We have people from all over,” Kinkaid said.

Tall, dry grass and triple-digit temperatures are contributing to the current wildfire risks.

“When we had all those rains earlier, it just fueled (the vegetation),” Kinkaid said. “We had all those rains and all the grass grew really high. Now, we’re in a drought, and there’s a lot of fuel on the ground. That’s what we’re worried about.”

Strike team deployments have become as common as dry summers in the Texas Hill Country, Marble Falls Fire Rescue Capt. Jeff Beltran told

“These strike teams come in annually, every summer,” he said.

Beltran is thankful for the extra help.

“We’ve got a lot of area to cover,” he said. “It helps us tremendously for these strike teams to be in the area and stand right next to us as we fight these fires.”

The Athletic Club owner Fermin Ortiz opened his gym at 2312 U.S. 281 North in Marble Falls for free to the visiting firefighters.

“I told them the very first day, ‘Hey, I can’t charge you guys. You do a lot for us. Get in here and get rid of the stress,’” he said. “I don’t think enough people appreciate what being a fireman entails. You are going toward danger, and you don’t know if you going to come out of it safe. I have a lot of respect for people who do that.”

Ortiz said the firefighters have been great gym guests.

“They’ve been fantastic,” he said. “They’ve come in ready to work out and have a good time.”

The strike team members have been overwhelmed by the support they’ve received from Ortiz and other local businesses.

“It’s been awesome,” Kinkaid said. “They’ve been nothing but kind.”

Each firefighter will be in the area for seven to 21 days before returning home. Other firefighters will fill their spots until the risk of wildfires declines.

“Until the threat and danger drops low enough, we’ll have a truck here,” Kinkaid said.