SPREADING LIKE WILDFIRE - Firefighters stave off forest fire at Camp Bullis

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Samuel Bendet
  • Torch Magazine
While fire-fighters in Bastrop County fought flames that scorched more than 34,000 acres and destroyed over 1,500 homes in one of Texas' worst wildfires in decades, Air Force and civilian firefighters came together in San Antonio to battle a blaze at Camp Bullis Sept. 7.

Brush fires raged through nearly 300 acres of forest at Camp Bullis. But unlike the devastation in Bastrop, the Camp Bullis fire was mostly contained within eight hours.

"The intensity of the heat at the apex of the fire was so hot that our truck lights and paint started melting," said 34-year veteran Eric Ruggs, assistant chief at the Camp Bullis Fire Department.

All the initial responders had to back out of the fire area and had to relocate the incident command post because of the rapidly spreading fire, Ruggs said.

"With the intense drought, it made the fire spread so rapidly," he added.

While the fire was mostly contained that first day, "mopping up" the hot spots lasted for another week, Ruggs said.

During this mop-up phase members of the Randolph Air Force Base, Texas, Fire Department were called in to support their brethren's efforts in controlling the blaze. Randolph's 4,000-gallon tanker truck arrived on scene to resupply water to Joint Base San Antonio and fire departments from all around the area.

"All the credit goes to the Fort Sam guys ... They were working (the toughest parts)," said Randolph firefighter Staff Sgt. Devin Blue.

As part of a nearly two-week, two-man operation on rotation for days and nights, Blue and his partner, Timothy Hagan, served on the mop-up crew. This entailed driving around the perimeter and checking for hot spots, busting up smoldering stumps, digging up the ground and putting out smoldering remains to try to protect the remaining green areas, Blue said.

"It's hard to contain fires here because of how dry it is," Blue said. "All it takes is a little gust of wind to throw embers in a certain direction; and with stuff being so dry, it goes up like a match book! And without heavy equipment here, everything had to be done by hand."

For some, like Airman 1st Class Perry Robinson of Randolph, the experience served as his wildfire fighting initiation.

"It was my first time seeing water dropped from airplanes and seeing whole fields of burned trees," the Airman said.

It was even Robinson's first time for wearing a "banana suit" -- the protective gear that helps keep firemen cooler while battling these wildfires.

During Robinson's shift, spot fires were prevalent, and they were constantly rekindling.

"I had to help put them out," he said. "It was kind of fun."

At press time, it was still unknown what had caused the Camp Bullis blaze.

"In Texas, 91 percent of wildfires are caused by humans," said Bill Paxton, information officer for the Texas Forest Service. "At this point, the best thing I could recommend to Texas residents is to be extremely careful with fire. The best line of defense we have right now is people, because we can stop many of these fires from starting in the first place."