Severe wildfire conditions raised their ugly head with a vengeance Wednesday afternoon when about 640 acres near the Chase Field Industrial Complex and Airport burned.
The first call came to the Beeville Police Department at 3:44 p.m. when someone phoned in to report a fire near the runway at the former naval air station.
With high winds, dry conditions and plenty of fuel in the area, firemen rushed to the scene to find smoke towering over the brush land south and west of the outermost runway.
Firemen in brush trucks, compressed air foam trucks and other vehicles rushed into the fields trying to get the fire out before it spread farther and caused more serious damage.
Deputies from the Bee County Sheriff’s Department drove up to homes along the south side of State Highway 202 to warn residents of the fire and crews from American Electric Power responded so they could watch their large transmission lines in the area.
Assistant Fire Chief Lanny Holland said the fire started in a trash pit used by the Bee Development Authority on Chase Field property.
But Fire Chief Donnie Morris said the fire was an accident. BDA personnel were not burning trash in the pit and had not burned there in about a month. But they had dumped there earlier in the day and Morris said something in that dumped load probably started the blaze.
Thick, matted grass and dry brush ignited in seconds and southeast winds carried flames high in the air and across the dry grass as firefighters from nine area fire departments converged on the scene.
At one point Holland was forced to cut part of the perimeter fence so brush trucks could get to the speeding fire line.
Morris said that, fortunately, SH 202 and the outermost runway at Chase Field provided fire breaks. But he said the intent of the firemen was to stop the blaze before it reached those breaks.
Fire did race through the grass near the runway and consumed vegetation right up to the edge of the pavement. In places, wooden fence posts caught fire next to the runway.
Vehicles and volunteers arrived from Mathis, Beeville, Normanna, Pettus,
Skidmore, Blanconia, George West, Pawnee and Papalote, Morris said.
“It was a real hot fire,” Morris said.
Fortunately, firemen in the area have been getting plenty of practice putting out rapidly-spreading wildfires in recent days.
Morris said Beeville firemen helped stop a large grass fire in Pawnee on Tuesday. That fire also burned more than 600 acres and threatened to consume a couple of structures. He said if firemen had not been there the structures would have been lost. One person was burned slightly in that fire but not seriously injured.
On Wednesday, right before the Chase Field fire, volunteers from Beeville had assisted George West and firemen in Jim Wells County in fighting significant grass fires.
“I drove about 150 miles yesterday,” Morris said Thursday.
Bee County is presently under a burn ban. Burning outdoors is prohibited unless done by certified burn managers who have filed their certificates with the county. Rural residents also may burn household trash from 7 a.m. to 11 a.m. Monday, Wednesday and Saturdays as long as they use a steel barrel covered with a mesh screen.
Bee Development Authority Executive Director Joe Montez did not agree with reports from the Beeville Volunteer Fire Department regarding the grass fire at the Chase Field Industrial Park and Airport Wednesday evening.
Montez said it was not 640 acres that burned in the fire but about 130 acres.
The director also said the BDA does not burn trash on the property. There is a trash pit at the location but that is used by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.
“It has cost us thousands of dollars to haul trash out of here,” Montez said. “We do not have a burn permit.”
Montez said the property that burned is leased by the TDCJ and the BDA has nothing to do with the land. He said the property is situated close to the prison system’s firing range at Chase Field and he was not sure if the state was burning anything there or not before the grass fire started.