Photos courtesy of Jasper County Lt. Jason Hollyfield, Billy Ted Smith, Joseph Lane, Jasper County Judge Mark Allen, Deputy Dustin Fulks, and Mike Wolters
By Sandi Saulsbury
During the Shearwood Creek firestorms, the goodness of mankind is apparent in so many aspects. Local Firefighters from all of our area departments, Texas Forest Service, Florida Forest Service, Kentucky Fire, Tennessee Fire, Puerto Rico Fire, San Antonio Fire, and Harris County Fire among many others came out in full force putting their very lives at risk to save the lives and homes of people they didn’t even know. Local churches opened their doors to evacuees as well as firefighters in need of a place to rest, air conditioning, or just a caring shoulder to cry on. Residents and organizations have donated thousands of drinks, snacks, meals, and comfort kits out of their own pockets to keep families and first responders going during our time of crisis.
The Red Cross has been on hand providing comfort, food, and water for those affected. Spindletop has also been available at the command center helping with the mental health aspect that comes with situations like this, both for the victims and for those fighting the fires.
The situation is not as dramatic now as it has been in recent days and thankfully, to the best of our knowledge there were no serious injuries, however, there were two firefighters who were overheated while working at one of the Texas fires. They were taken to the hospital for treatment and went right back out there working to fight the fires.
Jasper County Judge Mark Allen said on Monday morning, “Currently, the wildfire hot zone is now at 95% containment with no increases in the 3,700 acres consumed. No other residences or buildings have been damaged other than those identified a couple of days ago.” Allen said in reference to six homes and seven outbuildings which were also lost, but it is currently unknown what type of structures they were. Also, 3 camps have been destroyed. Allen added, “So far, no livestock or pets have been reported lost to my knowledge. I do know that several dogs have been rescued and taken to temporary housing The Texas Forest Service and support strike teams are still on the scene and will be monitoring the area for several more days to prevent the spread of any new flare-ups due to falling pine needles or leaves from trees as they begin to shed. They will continue to work with local volunteer fire department personnel to identify and put out any flare-ups”.
Allen said that Jasper ISD utilized the Ebenezer Church today as a bus stop and will be dropping off children in the affected area this afternoon, but they hope to return to normal bus operations in that area very soon.
“I believe that Ebenezer Church will be continuing to provide food and comfort to the first responders and victims of the fire, and we are thankful for the outpouring of love and support by the people in our community”. Allen continued, “The rain that we received yesterday evening and last night was a blessing and will greatly help with completing the containment of this wildfire incident and will also hopefully reduce the chances of fires in other areas of Jasper County”. Allen then spoke of the East Texas Banner, “Many thanks to you and the East Texas Banner for keeping our people informed. I really appreciate all that you do”. During this time, Kirbyville and Buna Volunteer Fire Departments have stayed behind and are covering the remainder of the county in the event something happens here. Our firefighters have been stretched thin. Meanwhile, Roganville, Beech Grove, Rayburn, and a number of other departments were stationed in the northern end of the county on the Shearwood Creek fire.
Allen said, “There were four large tankers (airplanes) that spray with fire retardant, Scooping aircraft, as well as helicopters that were going back and forth from the lake dumping water on the fire. It’s quite a sight to behold! They were also helping with Tyler County’s fire. TxDOT has been active out here as well as our county constables.”
Kirbyville Volunteer Fire Chief Greg Ellis said of Sunday night's rain, “Don't let a little rain fool you!! It will take lots of rain to get us out of the dry vegetation so please if you see anyone burning, please report it to the sheriff's office immediately!” Ellis continued, “The small storms we may get will produce cloud-to-ground lightning. Please be aware of your property and make sure you don't see any trees burning or smoldering. If so, please report it immediately! We have a way to go before it gets better so, please help us keep our community safe”.
While Southeast Texas officials were battling our nightmare blazes, our neighbors across the river were fighting a nightmare of an even greater magnitude of their own.
Residents in Deridder, Merryville, Tiger Island, and Lions Camp among others were forced to evacuate, leaving behind homes and irreplaceable memories. Many of those will have nothing to return home to. Monday morning's estimate was more than 60,000 acres destroyed and an unknown number of homes and other structures now lay in ruins.
Burn bans are in effect throughout Texas and Louisiana and have been for some time now. Vernon Parish Sheriff Sam Craft said that a man from Rosepine has just been arrested for violating a burn ban. 59-year-old Paul Nash was burning trash and left the fire unattended. Nash has been charged with Illegal Burning in Violation of a Burn Ban, Fire Raising on Lands of Another by Criminal Negligence, and Negligent Arson. Nash is solely responsible for the loss of two homes because he wanted to burn trash.
The Merryville fire alone has reportedly burned 33,294 acres and is just over 52 square miles. It is said to be the largest fire ever recorded in Louisianna history.
Please pay attention to the bans and conditions in your area. All it takes is one indiscretion to destroy a lifetime of hard work and memories.