Mesquite Heat Fire containment efforts continue with new resources on way

·6 min read

Wind whistling outside the View Volunteer Fire Department station Friday morning was not a good sign.

Fire crews were gathered inside for an update and assignments on the Mesquite Heat Fire that started Tuesday afternoon near View.

Live Updates: Mesquite Heat Fire Friday update: Weather challenging as crews plan to improve containment

The fire size remained Friday morning as it was Thursday night – 9,613 acres and 25% contained.

Crews on Thursday were able to quickly attack flare-ups before those created major extensions into new territory, Stuart Morris, Texas A&M Forest Service regional wildland urban interface coordinator, said Friday morning after the briefing.

"Yesterday with the lack of activity, it gave us a much better advantage on making progress containing fires," Morris said about Thursday's progress.

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Crew members on the Buffalo Gap Volunteer Fire Department Brush Truck 1 on Friday do mop-up work along County Road 282 that had been scorched by the Mesquite Heat Fire.
Crew members on the Buffalo Gap Volunteer Fire Department Brush Truck 1 on Friday do mop-up work along County Road 282 that had been scorched by the Mesquite Heat Fire.

Thursday evening was the first since the wildfire started that the sky was free of a large smoke cloud building like a thunderstorm and visible for miles around.

But the area around View and Buffalo Gap to the east is filled with haze and a burnt aroma.

A total of 27 structures, which include houses, have been destroyed as of Friday morning, but that number may increase as a forest service assessment team works through the area to document damage, Morris said.

Abilene Mayor Anthony Williams stated in a Facebook Live video Thursday morning that 50-60 houses had been destroyed, but he corrected the figure to plus or minus 27 in a follow-up Facebook post in the afternoon.

Road closures and evacuations

Some evacuation orders implemented Tuesday and Wednesday have been lifted, and a few roads reopened.

Buffalo Gap residents were allowed to return Thursday evening, and Friday morning vendors for the flea market held the third Saturday of the month were setting up at the Old Settlers Reunion Grounds.

U.S. Highway 277 through the hills remained closed to the public Friday morning, from FM 1235 in View to FM 89 at Coronado's Camp. A Texas Department of Public Safety trooper was stationed at the roadblock at FM 1235 to divert traffic.

Areas east and west of U.S. Highway 277 from FM 1235 to Buffalo Mountain Ranch were open.

The following areas remain closed/evacuated as of Friday morning:

► Braune Road from CR 297 to Hidden Valley Drive.

► Hidden Valley Drive.

► Braune Road from Hidden Valley Drive to Hillside Road.

While announcing the partial lifting of the evacuation order, the Taylor County Sheriff's Office advised that the wildfire danger remained and residents should be prepared to leave on short notice.

More: See a map of the Mesquite Heat Fire, smoke spread

A Texas Department of Public Safety trooper redirects traffic at a roadblock at U.S. Highway 277 and FM 1235 Friday. The highway near View remained closed to FM 89 Friday morning because of the Mesquite Heat Fire.
A Texas Department of Public Safety trooper redirects traffic at a roadblock at U.S. Highway 277 and FM 1235 Friday. The highway near View remained closed to FM 89 Friday morning because of the Mesquite Heat Fire.

More help on the way

Multiple agencies are helping to fight the Mesquite Heat Fire.

"Taylor County and the volunteer fire department have done an incredible job," said Abilene City Manager Robert Hanna after the Friday briefing in View.

At the View VFD, a mobile command center for the city of Abilene and Taylor County sat next to fueling tankers from the Texas Department of Transportation to refuel fire trucks.

Brush trucks from multiple fire VFDs were parked nearby, with others already in the field.

Resources from the city of Abilene include four engines, two chiefs and some bulldozers, Hanna said.

Additional firefighters from the Texas Intrastate Fire Mutual Aid System were joining location VFDs in attacking the wildfire, Morris said.

About 70 firefighters from across the state, along with their equipment, have been deployed here, he said. That number did not include all the volunteer firefighters.

In addition, the Gold Team from the Southern Area Coordinating Group is arriving Friday because of the complexity of the fire, Morris said. The group, which covers 13 states, specializes in coordinating and overseeing the mobilization of emergency resources during wildfires, natural disasters and other major incidents.

The Mesquite Heat Fire is classified as a Type 2 fire, Morris said. Classifications can range from 5, such as a roadside brushfire, to 1, such as the massive wildfires in California.

Several factors contributed to the Mesquite Heat Fire's Type 2 classification, including the amount of urban population, houses affected and resources available from multiple local and state agencies, Morris said.

Staff members of the Texas Division of Emergency Management overlook a newly printed map of the area affected by the Mesquite Heat Fire Friday after a briefing at the View Volunteer Fire Department.
Staff members of the Texas Division of Emergency Management overlook a newly printed map of the area affected by the Mesquite Heat Fire Friday after a briefing at the View Volunteer Fire Department.

Toll on volunteer fire departments

"Shake a leg!"

That was the call from Buffalo Gap Volunteer Fire Department Brush Truck 1 as the engine was started and the driver waited for a last firefighter to climb aboard.

After working 46 hours straight on the Mesquite Heat Fire, Assistant Fire Chief Dan Hackney understandably had trouble describing the exact location of the wildfire a few miles southwest of town.

"The caffeine hadn't kicked in yet," Hackney said.

Prior to the call for the truck to head out, he and other volunteers had been prepping equipment for another day of fighting flare ups.

Just about all 26 members on the VFD's roster have been involved in fighting the Mesquite Heat Fire, he said.

Volunteers and donations have kept the firefighters well stocked with water, food and other necessary supplies, Hackney said.

But the VFD depends on monetary donations, and the fire in hilly areas has taken a toll on not just the firefighters but their brush trucks. Two brush truck tires had to be replaced, and one vehicle broke down in the field, Hackney said.

Despite looking ahead to another hard day of fighting the wildfire, Hackney expressed thanks for help on the front lines from several area VFDs.

Some had traveled a great distance, as far as May 70 miles to the east and Sweetwater 40 miles to the west.

"There's been a lot of them showing up, and we appreciative the help," Hackney said.

A way to support the VFDs is to make direct monetary donations.

In addition, the Community Foundation of Abilene is accepting donations to its Big Country Fire Relief Fund to provide support for VFDs and people affected by the View wildfire. Donations can be made online at cfabilene.org/firerelief.

Looking ahead at weekend weather

The weather outlook for the weekend and first of next week promises rain and cooler temperatures, breaking a string of 100-plus degree days.

But as a cool front and possible rainstorms move through, shifting winds can instigate new fire activity, Morris said.

The expected high temperature is 82 degrees Saturday, with northwest winds between 14 and 20 mph and gusts as high as 28 mph. The nighttime low will about about 55 degrees, according to the National Weather Service.

Rain chances are 30% Sunday and 70% Monday. The high temperature will be about 76 degrees at the start of the work week and bump up to about 82 degrees Monday.

Charred cactus and other vegetation are next to a power pole Friday as the Mesquite Heat Fire continued to burn in the distant hills near FM 1235 between View and Buffalo Gap.
Charred cactus and other vegetation are next to a power pole Friday as the Mesquite Heat Fire continued to burn in the distant hills near FM 1235 between View and Buffalo Gap.

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

This article originally appeared on Abilene Reporter-News: Mesquite Heat Fire taxing volunteer firefighters; more help on way