Montgomery County Firefighters who left out of the county Friday night finally saw some action on Sunday. After arriving at San Angelo from Midland they were assigned to deploy on the Wildcat Fire about 30 miles north of San Angelo near the town of Robert Lee.
When they arrived at the command center just after 9:00 a.m. they were given maps and told to continue approximately 12 miles out of town on SH 158. There they were to meet up with a field manager and given a task. Now referred to as Task Force 17 they were to sit along SH158 along with close to 20 other trucks and prevent the fire from jumping the road. If it were to jump some 400 homes would be threatened.
Shortly after 11a.m. a call went out on a road close by where the fire was running along the edges from the interior. It was quickly extinguished. At that point it was noted the fire was quickly approaching some homes along the canyon across the road. Two of the trucks responded to protect the homes just in time to see the fire climb the almost one-hundred yard canyon wall in under two minutes and start to spread through the grass and the juniper at a startling pace. A dozer was called in to assist.
Just as they had surrounded the first home to protect a call came in for yet another. As they responded to that fire the intense winds pushing the fire at almost a mile every five minutes cut off the road to exit the area. A dozer contracted to the U.S. Forest Service quickly cleared an area to protect the men and trucks from the fast moving fire.
Not long after another call came in on the opposite side of the canyon for yet another structure being threatened. At the same time an order to evacuate the town of Robert Lee and Ballinger was given as the fire was quickly approaching.
Robert Lee is approximately twelve miles from the fire the Montgomery County Crew is working on and Ballinger is twenty-three miles the other side of that. As of early Sunday morning almost 120,000 acres had burned. Several homes were lost as were cattle. Within two hours the wind had a slight change and the evacuation order was rescinded.
Now with the slight change in winds came more intense fires on the canyon walls.
A five foot juniper was almost exploding as it ignited and flames roared almost thirty-feet in the air with extreme heat. At some points where the brush was dense black smoke would form a column and almost create its own winds with the heat. May times throwing a fire spinning up like a tornado.
As dark set in the winds died down some but the work continued to save the homes in the fires path. At one point North Montgomery County Assistant Chief called for a pumper and tanker to work at saving one home. He was told they would try to locate one but for the time being it was two brush trucks and a red line to set up the defense.. Each brush truck is capable of carrying only 300 gallons of water. As they ran out the operator would have to drive to the main highway where oilfield type tankers were set up loaded with water to refill them.