The number of fires and the risk of more encouraged the Texas Forest Service recently to take its one Coastal Bend regional fire coordinator out of the original office in Kingsville and station two coordinators in the area.
One of those coordinators was sent to a new office in Edinburg and James P. Barrie was sent to Beeville.
Barrie is new to the TFS. He joined the branch of the Texas A&M University System about three months ago, becoming one of only 23 coordinators.
But he is not new to the field of fire fighting. The Houston native earned an associate’s degree in fire science at Lone Star College in 2007 and also completed the college’s police academy, becoming a certified peace officer.
“I can do arson investigations,” Barrie said.
He also is a certified, intermediate emergency medical technician.
“About the only thing I don’t do is teach CPR,” Barrie said.
The coordinator has been traveling throughout the 12-county Coastal Bend Region meeting firefighters and learning about the various fire departments.
Barrie is encouraged with the professionalism he has found at the Beeville Volunteer Fire Department.
“They’re well organized, enthusiastic and I’m impressed with the number of active firemen,” Barrie said.
The coordinator also expects to provide professional input for the Bee County Commissioners Court during periods when the risk of wildfires runs high. One of his jobs is to advise the commissioners of fire dangers and recommend burn bans when needed.
Also, farmers and ranchers in the area who plan to conduct prescribed burning of their fields and pastures need to be aware that Barrie must be notified before a burn takes place.
“It’s the law,” Barrie said.
Local firemen are glad to have a TFS coordinator right here in the county.
“He can help us out on resources we need on large fires and disasters,” said Assistant Fire Chief Bill Burris.
Barrie also will be a help to the department and to others in the county when the risk of wildfires is high.
Fire Chief Donald Morris said the TFS is warning fire departments in the region that this winter brings a serious threat of wildfires because of the rain the Coastal Bend has experienced in the last few months.
Grass is high, providing plenty of potential fuel for fires.
Morris said he has seen a lot of high grass growing around buildings and trailers in the countryside. If a wildfire starts around those structures, Bee County will end up losing some property.
Bee County Fire Marshal Ken Orrell agreed. “When we start seeing our first northers, we’re going to see some fires,” he said. “Some of these people need to cut some of this vegetation, especially around fence lines and buildings.”
“And watch trash burning,” Orrell warned. “It’s the main thing that causes wildfires. Burn household trash in a barrel and put a lid or a screen on it to keep embers from flying out into the grass.”
Morris urged everyone in the city and country to mow a perimeter around all buildings and vehicles.
He said it has been his experience that people who maintain their property and keep the grass mowed around their buildings and fences do not lose as much to grass and brush fires as those who do not maintain their property.
Morris said he was glad to see the TFS issue warnings about wildfire danger in the region. It was something he was concerned about weeks ago.
If the upcoming winter fire season is a bad one, Morris and Orrell said they are glad to have Barrie in Beeville.
“We’ve gotten a lot of help from the TFS,” Morris said. “He (Barrie) has made one of our fires with us.”
“I think it’s a great asset to Beeville and Bee County,” Orrell said. He and Morris said they are pleased about getting the opportunity to work with the new coordinator.
Gary Kent is a reporter at the Bee-Picayune and can be reached at 358-2550, ext. 120, or at reporter@mySouTex.com.