Firefighters had to make their way through thick black smoke to fight a fire next to the Expo Center Wednesday. The fire was confined to neighboring property and did not pose a danger to the livestock show going on at the Expo. Below, the extent of the smoke can be seen filling the sky.
Gary Kent photo.Heavy smoke blows toward the south from Ray's Automotive Center at 2253 U.S. Highway 59 west of the city Wednesday afternoon. It took firefighters from five departments two hours to put out the flames in overgrown grass and vehicles.
A firefighter uses a water line from a rural brush truck to put out flames in a grass and vehicle fire at an automobile wrecking yard at 2253 U.S. Highway 59 west of the city Wednesday.
A pickup was one of the first vehicles to start burning Wednesday afternoon at Ray’s Automotive Center just before 3 o’clock. Beeville Volunteer Fire Department Chief Donnie Morris said the fire was started by a worker at the center using a cutting torch near some of the overgrown grass.
BEEVILLE – Fire Chief Donnie Morris blamed dry grass, low humidity and high winds for what turned out to be a massive fire at Ray’s Automotive Center, at 2253 U.S. Highway 59 West, Wednesday afternoon.
Dispatchers at the Beeville Police Department received a call from the Bee County Sheriff’s Office at 2:32 p.m. about what was reported as a grass fire on U.S. Highway 59 just west of the city.
By the time the first fire units arrived at the scene, the wind had blown the fire through the tall, dry grass across the entire wrecking yard up to the fence on the north side of the Bee County Expo Center property.
That was where the flames stopped and proved exactly what firefighters have been saying for years: Keeping one’s grass mowed stops wildfires from spreading. The National Weather Service even issued a fire danger warning that day commonly known as a Red Flag warning.
However, by the time the flames reached the fence line, several abandoned cars and pickups had caught fire.
Tires could be heard exploding, but apparently there was no gasoline left in any of the tanks on the vehicles. No large explosions resulted as paint and tires caught fire and interiors burned.
Morris was the first firefighter to arrive on the south side of the fire near the Expo Center property.
By then at least one Beeville Volunteer Fire Department had approached the fire scene from the highway side, and the crew was working its way through the burning grass and vehicles.
Minutes later, as more brush trucks rolled up, two trucks from the Tynan Volunteer Fire Department arrived at the Expo Center property, and then the BVFD’s big rural fire truck appeared.
At one point a young firefighter jumped the fence between the two properties, pulling a water line from one of the rural brush trucks, and began trying to extinguish the fires in some of the burning vehicles.
Two more trucks came immediately from the Skidmore Volunteer Fire Department, and Morris said in his report that a truck from the Pettus Volunteer Department and another from the Normanna Volunteer Fire Department were at the scene.
In all, 13 firefighters and nine vehicles pumped more than 20,000 gallons of water on the inferno before the volunteers determined that the danger had subsided.
According to Morris’ report, the BVFD had six vehicles at the scene. He also reported that the fire was started by a worker at the automotive center using a cutting torch near the tall grass.
Tankers and brush trucks were using the water system at the Expo Center to refill their tanks.
Although the north wind kept the thick, black smoke close to the ground during the early part of the fire, before long the plume of smoke was billowing higher into the sky and heading southwest, actually blocking out the sun at times.
The last truck on the scene called the BPD dispatcher at 4.32 p.m., two hours after the first call came in, to report that it was headed back to the station.
Gary Kent is a reporter at the Bee-Picayune and can be reached at 358-2550, ext. 120, or at reporter@mySouTex.com.