Weather mixed blessing on wildfires; help for victims

Laura Gutschke
Abilene Reporter-News

While wildfires continued to burn Monday in Eastland and Brown counties, local and state agencies and volunteers are assessing damages and marshaling resources to aide those who lost houses and property. 

An engine from Arizona patrols the Loma East Fire in Jim Wells County on Monday.

March has been an active wildfire month across the state. Since March 14, local, state and federal firefighters have responded to 178 wildfires that burned almost 108,500 acres across Texas, @A&M Forest Service reported Monday.

Update on size of Eastland Complex, other Big Country fires

Following are the active fires in the Big Country, according to A&M Forest Service updates as of late Monday.  

• Eastland Complex, Eastland County - est. 54,134 acres, 60% contained. The complex consists of 7 fires that are being managed together:

• Kidd Fire, Eastland County (42,333 acres, 45% contained)

• Blowing Basin Fire, Eastland County (258 acres, 60% contained)

• Cedar Mountain Fire, Eastland County (179 acres, 40% contained)

• Oak Mott Fire, Brown County (4,031 acres, 80% contained)

• Wheat Field Fire, Eastland County (7,268 acres, 60% contained)

• Mangum Fire, Eastland County (est. 11 acres, 95% contained)

• Walling Fire, Eastland County (383 acres, 100% contained)

• Crews Gap Fire, Runnels County - est. 8,100 acres, 90% contained

• Big L Fire, Erath/Hood County - est. 11,000 acres, 20% contained

• Rifle Club Fire, Reeves County - 106 acres, 95% contained

• Ramsey Fire, Brown County - est. 1,800 acres, 60% contained

• Loma East Fire, Jim Wells County - est. 300 acres, 50% contained

Engines patrol and mop up on the Cedar Mountain Fire in Eastland County (Eastland Complex) on Sunday.

Monday's weather mixed blessing

Thunderstorms that moved through the area Monday morning provided some relief to the wildfires.

While moisture levels in the morning were low – about 0.05 inch in Abilene and 0.07 in Eastland, according to the National Weather Service website – higher humidity temporarily lessened the conditions that are favorable for fire spreading.

Southwest winds of 20-25 mph returned to the area Monday afternoon, with gusts up to 40 mph. Fires can spread quickly in such conditions, prompting the National Weather Service to issue a red flag warning for Jones, Taylor, Coleman, McCulloch and Mason counties.

A firefighter conducts a tactical firing operation on the Loma East Fire in Jim Wells County on Monday.

The NWS forecasted 20 mph winds for Stephenville on Tuesday, dying down by Wednesday. Temperatures will range from a daytime high of 57 to a nighttime low of 40. Wednesday is expected to be partly cloudy with a high in the mid-60s and a low around 37.

Resources for wildfire victims

For people affected by the Eastland Complex fires in Eastland and Brown counties, here is how to tap into available resources, according to Eastland County officials:

► Report damage: Contact the Texas Division of Emergency Management online at damage.tdem.texas.gov and click "Wildfire Outbreak March 17th." Using the online app iSTAT helps state officials track the extent of damage. Reporting through iSTAT is not a substitute for reporting damage to your insurance agency or guarantee disaster relief assistance.

► Disaster Assistance Center: The center is open 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. at Siebert Elementary Dome, 100 Little Maverick Trail, Eastland. Wildfire victims can receive assistance in reporting house damages, registering for possible cleanup assistance and meeting with the American Red Cross and other community partners offering resources and services. 

► Donations: Eastland County is discouraging donations of clothing and household items at this time. Donation pick-up sites include First Baptist Church in Eastland, Carbon Fire Department and Myrtle Wilks Community Center in Cisco.

Community Foundation of Abilene has partnered with the Eastland Community Foundation to establish the Eastland County Fire Relief Fund. A second fire fund has been created to assist other areas of the Big Country. To donate, visit cfabilene.org/firerelief, or make checks out to Community Foundation of Abilene with the fund name in the memo. Mail checks to PO Box 1001, Abilene, TX Texas 79604. 

► Animal Services: Texas Cattle Exchange, 9009 Interstate 20 in Eastland, is providing shelter for pets and livestock. Gorman Milling Company, 302 Lubbock St. in Gorman, is a central distribution site for all donated hay and feed. 

Tire blowout causes fire between Cisco and Eastland

A tire blowout on a recreational vehicle Sunday afternoon on Interstate 20 between Cisco and Eastland has been blamed for one of the new wildfires in the Eastland Complex.

The Cisco Fire Department was responding at about 2:30 p.m. to a vehicle crash in a section of the interstate congested due to construction. Firefighters witnessed the blowout and responded when it sparked a large grass fire, according to the Cisco FD's release on its Facebook page. 

The Cisco Ladder 4 company was overrun by the fire, with a fire hose and nozzles sustaining damage. 

The fire moved north toward State Highway 6, prompting evacuations and temporary closure of that roadway because of billowing black smoke.

Forest Service crews responded to help contain the blaze, named the Cedar Mountain Fire. As of 10:30 a.m. Monday, it had burned 179 acres with 0% containment.  

Don't be a fire tourist

Local officials are discouraging people driving through the burned areas to see the damage. 

New wildfires remain a threat this week, and additional roadway traffic can hamper fire crews responding to a scene.

Laura Gutschke is a general assignment reporter and food columnist and manages online content for the Reporter-News. If you appreciate locally driven news, you can support local journalists with a digital subscription to ReporterNews.com.