The first fire was on the median near mile marker 65 between the north and southbound lanes of I-37 on July 31 at about 3:30 p.m.
No injuries were reported, and the exact cause of the fire was difficult to determine, according to Three Rivers Fire Department President Corky Lewis.
Lewis speculated that the blaze was ignited by a blown-out tire. He said when the steel belt strikes the pavement it causes sparks to flare out, thus setting the grass on fire. The blaze was put out within the hour, leaving behind the charred and blackened remains of grass and debris about the size of a football field.
“The grass is getting drier, so we are having a lot more of these,” TRFD Chief Bobby Joe Stewart said. “It doesn’t take much of a spark, and fire conditions are worsening without regular rains. One hundred-degree days dry it out quickly.”
The second fire occurred just two hours later at the intersection of I-37 and Highway 72 East when a trailer full of oily rags, fuel filters, air filters and other oil drilling equipment burst into flames while being hauled by a C.J. Services pickup on Wednesday at about 5:30 p.m.
“I suspect spontaneous combustion from the heat of the day, but I don’t know what exactly started it,” Stewart said. “That’s the first time we’ve had one like that on an open road. It could have been someone throwing a cigarette out that was passing by.”
The cause of the fire was unknown, but it only took the TRFD about 10 minutes to extinguish the flames.
Stewart’s comment about drier grass causing more fires proved true when a third fire ignited in a hay field on Friday afternoon. A hay cutter struck a rock causing a spark which ignited about two acres on the J.B. Colbs Ranch near Simmons at about 1:45 p.m.
Jeff Sauter credited the fire igniting to the grass being so dry and a lack of moisture in the air due to the afternoon heat.
“My uncle (J.B. Colb) came over with a shovel, and he was going to put it out, and I said no, he’s 89 (years old),” Rodney Colb said.
Calliham Fire Department, TRFD and George West Fire Department were on the scene and had the flames extinguished within an hour.
Calliham Fire Chief Will McBee said he responded to the fire although he wasn’t paged to it since he was nearby and could respond faster than Live Oak’s fire departments.
“I didn’t have to think. I just jumped in the truck and headed that way,” McBee said.
The weekend provided no relief from the heat when Joseph Ray called in to report a 2012 Dodge 2500 pickup that burst into flames on Cameron Lane about four miles from Highway 97 at about 3:30 p.m.
Cameron Lane is the county-line between McMullen and La Salle counties and isn’t very well maintained according to McBee. He said he would not go down that road after it rains because the potholes would fill with water halfway up his truck doors.
The cause of the truck fire was not officially determined, but McBee speculated that it could have been caused by the drive shaft. The truck’s drive shaft came apart, leaving a “yoke in the road” for about 10-20 feet behind it.
“There’s got to be some reason for it,” McBee said. “It doesn’t just happen like spontaneous combustion; there is always a reason for it.”
No injuries were reported, but the 30-foot flames were tricky to put out according to McBee due to magnesium in the steering column of the truck.
“I was going to hit it with the water canon on the front, but the more water I put on it the worse it got, so I backed off,” McBee said.