25,000-acre wildfire ignites in Davis Mountains

JEFF DAVIS COUNTY – Winds in excess of 30 mph didn’t help efforts Wednesday to tamp down a wildfire in the Davis Mountains that had burned over 25,000 acres at press time.

A second fire, this one on the Union Pacific railroad tracks west of Marfa and east of Valentine sent fire crews scurrying Wednesday, interrupting their work in the mountains to the north and east.

That fire on US 90, started by sparks from a rail car on an eastbound freight train, was fortunately knocked down for the most part Wednesday before it could get into the mountains and further complicate matters, courtesy of the Marfa Volunteer Fire Department.

The train started four separate fires in about eight miles between the intersection of RR 505 and US 90 and the aerostat balloon.

With air crews working the fire in the mountains, it was quick work to divert them to US 90 and get an early handle on what could have been an even larger disaster. Both air crews and ground crews were moved to the fire on the railroad.

That slowed down the work on what is now called the McDannald Fire, the name coming from a piece of the old Jones Ranch that was purchased some years back by the McDannald family. That original fire, however, was still only 10 percent contained Wednesday afternoon and county and fire officials had advised residents of the Davis Mountains Resort to voluntarily evacuate and those in Crows Nest to be aware of how close the fire was to their homes.

At press time, there had been no loss of buildings or life.

It began at about 3am Tuesday when storms blew through Far West Texas, leaving behind some rain in places – up to nine tenths east of Fort Davis – but mainly lightning and strong winds.

A lightning strike near the intersection of RR 505 and the loop is credited with starting the fire, one that firefighters originally thought was under control.

However, sparks cranked the fire back up Tuesday morning and the fire quickly spread to several ranches, going in and out of canyons and picking up steam.

By Tuesday afternoon the fire was in excess of 10,000 acres with the big winds coming on Wednesday.

Fort Davis, Marfa, Valentine and Davis Mountains Resort volunteer firefighters were on the front lines, with Texas Forest Service personnel quickly engaged.

Stationed in a number of West Texas locations, those state firefighters got here in a hurry and brought with them a team of firefighters from Wisconsin’s forest service who were working with the TFS crews.

By Wednesday another group from Georgia had moved in as well. In addition, fire retardant was being used from large tankers coming out of Alamogordo, New Mexico, and from smaller, single-engine planes stationed in Fort Stockton and Alpine.

Some 200 firefighters were being stationed at Bloys Campground, thanks to the Bloys Association opening up their facilities to the crews.

Another large contingency of TFS and firefighters from across the nation was set up next to the firehall in Fort Davis.

Both the St. Joseph’s Catholic Church Parish Hall and the Fort Davis Baptist Church Fellowship Hall were open to evacuees.

Jim Fowler, the public information officer with the Fort Davis Volunteer Fire Department, put out numerous information releases via Reverse 911 and other media outlets.

Jeff Davis County Fire Marshal Roy Hurley was working in the field and Larry Francell, the Jeff Davis County Emergency Management director and former county commissioner, was in Fort Davis, both also releasing information.

All three wanted all concerned to know that currently there were no needs for water, food or any other items. Further, the trio asked that area residents refrain from going into the fire areas, with highway 166 closed from Bloys to the intersection with RR 505.