Presidio County part of statewide wildfire disaster declaration

PRESIDIO COUNTY — On Monday, Governor Greg Abbott issued a disaster proclamation in response to widespread wildfires across the state. The proclamation affects 191 counties, including Presidio, Brewster and Jeff Davis counties. 

In a press release, Abbott sang the praises of local first responders who had weathered a busy fire season. “As we continue to respond to wildfire conditions across the state, Texas is ready to provide any additional resources and aid to impacted communities,” he wrote. “I commend the bravery and service of the hundreds of emergency personnel and firefighters who have swiftly responded to the wildfires to protect their fellow Texans and communities.”

According to the Texas A&M Forest Service, 8,500 acres of Texas land have burned since August 1. As most of the state faces record-high temperatures and drought, public officials are worried that even more land could be at risk. 

The Big Bend has been a hot spot for fire activity this summer. In May, Brewster County first responders put out a spate of brush fires in the wake of high winds, and in late June, Presidio County responded to a number of fires caused by lightning strikes. Earlier this month, Jeff Davis County has seen so much fire activity that it launched a formal investigation. 

In more populated counties, the increased level of wildfire activity has translated into property damage and major risks to humans and animals. Last week, a fire in the Austin suburb of Cedar Park led hundreds of people to evacuate their homes and businesses.

Presidio County Emergency Management Coordinator Gary Mitschke said that he hadn’t personally seen a major spike in wildfires corresponding with the governor’s declaration — but the measure serves as a solid fall-back plan if fire activity worsened. 

Marfa and Presidio’s volunteer fire departments are the first to respond to the county’s fires, but — as their name implies — their work is strictly volunteer. “We do it for nothing,” Mitschke said. 

While the volunteers themselves are happy to offer their time and training, the equipment they use isn’t free. The governor’s proclamation allows fire departments the option to apply for reimbursement for damaged equipment and wear and tear on vehicles. “It’s a lot of work, and I won’t say it pays off, but we can be reimbursed for our gear,” he said. “Maintenance is constant.”