By CLINT FOSTER
LAKE PALO PINTO – Three fires raged across Palo Pinto County over the weekend that ultimately contributed to the Palo Pinto County Commissioners Court’s decision to reinstate a county-wide burn ban on Monday.
Now, new information has surfaced concerning arguably the most serious of the three weekend fires that illustrates just how much of a challenge it truly presented for local firefighters.
This particular fire occurred Sunday, between noon and 1 p.m., at a two-story home on Dunn Drive on the west bank of Lake Palo Pinto.
An army of firefighters from Lone Camp, Santo, Gordon, Strawn, Palo Pinto, Lake Palo Pinto, Brazos and Mineral Wells volunteer fire departments all responded to the blaze as well as Emergency Medical Services units from Santo, Tri-Cities and Possum Kingdom East.
Palo Pinto County Fire Marshal Buddy Harwell told the Index the flames had engulfed the entire second floor of the home by the time firefighters arrived.
“It was just a bad fire,” he said. “We needed all the water we could get.”
A representative from Santo Fire and EMS said the house was a “lost cause” upon arrival – with both the home and a vehicle under the carport trapped in an inferno – so firefighters were charged with the difficult task of containing the fire and preventing from spreading to many nearby structures and trees.
Harwell said the area was fairly densely wooded, making this task all the more difficult.
Yet, even with a north wind pushing the flames directly at a neighboring house, firefighters prevented any of the surrounding structures – including the burning home’s garage – from getting scorched.
Santo Fire/EMS said this fire required nothing less than “total teamwork” to combat. All firefighters were assigned different areas to work and rotated, taking turns hydrating and resting to stave off heat exhaustion from the towering flames that produced two audible explosions.
Even with this method, though, two firefighters went down with heat exhaustion and were transported to Palo Pinto General Hospital. Harwell said the first – a Lake Palo Pinto volunteer – was transported by Santo EMS.
Soon after they left, the second, from Brazos VFD, felt ill and was transported by Tri-Cities EMS. Both firefighters were treated and released from the hospital without any problems.
Santo Fire Captain Kristina Duncan described the experience of fighting what she called one of the worst structure fires she has seen.
“This was one of the hardest I’ve fought, simply because it was fully involved when we got there,” she said. “We haven’t had very many structure fires in the last year, thank God. Our main concern was to keep it off the two structures right beside it.”
As bad as the fire was, Duncan said upon arriving at the scene there was little else going through her mind than an all-business approach of how to fight the fire. She immediately jumped into action, taking control of the lead hose.
“Honestly that’s how it is,” she explained. “It’s just one of those things.
Instincts kick in and you know what you’re supposed to do. I don’t know how to describe it really.”
As a Firefighter Emergency Medical Technician - Intermediate with Santo, in addition to her role as Fire Captain, Duncan also helped transport the firefighter from Lake Palo Pinto VFD to PPGH before turning around and heading back to the flames at the Lake.
Harwell said, as of Thursday, he has yet to hear from the insurance company or determine a concrete cause for the fire. Although Duncan said she did not spend much time investigating the site after the structure burned to the ground, she ventured a guess that it might have been related to a heater, based on the time of year.
Despite the loss of the house, Harwell said that everyone inside was fortunately able to escape and no people or animals were injured or killed in the blaze. Thanks to a concerted effort by eight of Palo Pinto County’s finest volunteer fire departments, no one else in the area had to sweat the threat of the flames.
Duncan plainly said it was all in a day’s work.
“We’re just doing our job,” she said. “It’s what we volunteer for.”