Early Sunday afternoon Chief Corky Cochran responded with the Livingston Fire Department to New Willard. A small sawmill town that dates back into the 1800’s just north of Livingston off Loop 116. Over the past twenty years Chief Cochran has responded to at least one or two fires a year at the Wonder Chemical Company.
Wonder processes mulch of many varieties. Here is is bagged along with potting soils, cow manure, different colors and sizes of bark mulch. With the sun beating down on the nearly four acres of mountains of mulch they will ignite with the decomposition inside the mounds. Most of the time the fires are smokey and small. Seldom is much water even needed as tractors are able to open the mounds up pretty much extinguishing the fire.
Mother nature today changed all that. With the high winds out of the south the fire spread pile to pile. At one point several propane tanks used for machinery exploded. An 18 wheeler was damaged extensively and it was moving very quickly toward the offices and bagging and mixing facilities.
Seeing and feeling the intensity of the fire other departments were quickly summoned. Water was close by but not adequate enough to keep a line of tankers filled. The next closest was almost four miles away.
Dump tanks were set up. The smoke was so intense that firefighters had to use self contained breathing apparatus. With the exertion and heat each bottle only lasts approximately fifteen minutes. This kept Livingston’s Heavy Rescue truck busy filling tanks.
The Texas Forest Service was also notified and brought in a helicopter to assist with water drops from a pond close by.
Sheriff Hammack responded to the scene with many of his deputies. DPS units directed traffic at Loop 116 and US 59 to allow fire trucks to get to the fire quickly without having to wait for the heavy afternoon traffic returning toward Houston from a beautiful weekend.
The fire was moving quickly and more units were called in. In all 28 departments from four counties responded. Over 50 pieces of fire apparatus and over 100 men and women firefighters.
Finally as dark set in the fire was brought under control. It will be allowed to burn itself out. Company dozers will spread it over the next few days in an attempt to totally extinguish it. Fire officials will remain to monitor the situation.
One concern is Monday. Winds are forecast to shift to the west north-west. If this happens the intense smoke blowing over US 59 may force TXDOT to have to close it. They will also be on the scene Monday monitoring the situation.
The only injury reported was one firefighter who was overcome by smoke. He was checked by medics and returned to the front line.
The list of departments is long but all of these firefighters, most volunteers spent their afternoon doing what they enjoy, firefighting and assisting others. There will always be another day to cut grass, wash the car or spend time with the family.
The list of departments responding is as follows: Livingston, Dibol, Cleveland, Tarkington, Highway 321, Plum Grove, Shepherd, Huntsville, Coldspring, Point Blank, Bear Creek, Texas Forest Service, Onalaska, Camilla,Indian Springs, Pine Prarie,Scenic Loop, Holiday Lakes, Woodpecker, Ivanhoe, South Polk County, Woodville, Trinity, Cordovan, New Waverly, North Liberty County and Alabama-Coushatta Indian Reservation Fire.