RV Park Residents Flee Texas Grassfire
A fast-moving brush fire temporarily closed Interstate 10 on Sunday afternoon (June 19) and chased residents from an RV park in Kendall County north of San Antonio where several vehicles and facilities were destroyed before the blaze was contained around nightfall, the San Antonio Express reported.
“It was terrifying,” said Kathy Lowell, who fled her home in the Top of the Hill RV Resort at the urging of emergency responders who battled the wind-stoked fire in triple-digit temperatures.
Mere minutes after they first smelled smoke, the Lowells say, the fire had moved into the park, located near exit 533 of I-10, igniting propane tanks and ammunition stored in the roughly 70 travel trailers and recreational vehicles.
“We couldn’t hardly breathe due to the black smoke,” said Walt Lowell, 61, as he waited nearby at Po-Po Family Restaurant, the unofficial evacuation center, for permission to return to inspect the damage. “You could hear stuff blowing up left and right.”
The wildfire is one of many that have spread through drought-stricken Texas.
Since the start of fire season Nov. 15, the Texas Forest Service has recorded 12,189 fires that have burned 3,012,876 acres.
That is 1,000,000 acres more than the previous record, set in 2006, forest service officials said.
The fire erupted from an unknown cause about 2:30 p.m. along the interstate between Boerne and Comfort.
It burned 140 acres before being subdued by roughly 85 firefighters from area volunteer departments and the Texas Forest Service, which sent an airplane and two bulldozers, according to Boerne Fire Chief Doug Meckel.
“It got into the dry cedar and moved aggressively,” Meckel said. “When it’s this dry with this much wind, it’s ideal for a fire to burn.”
The smoke had largely cleared by dusk, although a helicopter continued dropping water and Meckel was reluctant to say the fight was over.
“We’ve got a lot of hot spots that we’re trying to put out,” he said. “We don’t want to say, ‘It’s under control’ because of the fuels and the wind.”
The hours of uncertainty took their toll on displaced residents such as Joshua and Julisa Allen, who thought that their travel trailer was well clear of a distant brush fire they observed upon returning home from lunch.
Minutes later, they felt the heat and smelled the smoke of the nearing fire.
“The smoke was so thick and the ash was falling like snow,” said Joshua Allen, 41. “We said, ‘We’ve got to get out of here.’”
Julisa Allen, who’s expecting a baby in a few months, said, “It was real scary.”
Although some residents groused about not being allowed to collect valuables or move their vehicles out of harm’s way, firefighters said their emphasis was preserving lives, not property.
“It was an urgent situation,” said Waring volunteer firefighter Brian Brawner, 53. “When all those propane tanks and stuff started popping off, it was scary.”
James Allerkamp, assistant chief of the Comfort Volunteer Fire Department, said the fire scorched the RV park on the north side of I-10, then turned with the wind toward homes on the south side of the highway.
“It was kind of rare to have multiple structures threatened on both sides of I-10,” he said during a break.
Preliminary damage assessments indicated that six or seven RVs were destroyed, as well as three cars and a motorcycle, plus the RV park’s clubhouse, laundry room and pavilion.
“It sounds like all the main buildings at the top are burned, and some RVs,” said John Bollinger, manager of the park, which opened in 2001 and has 103 sites. Unable to return after the fire hit, he watched from beside FM 289 as the flames and smoke moved in and, finally, the park’s flagpole fell.
Kendall County Judge Gaylan Schroeder, who was on the scene, praised firefighters from numerous surrounding departments for their help.
“It’s a pretty bad fire,” he said. “We lost quite a few travel trailers and several cars.”
State officials closed I-10 off and on, at times in both directions, over the course of four hours during the fire, upsetting both Father’s Day commuters and those desperate to reach their homes near the fire.
The fire danger was extreme Sunday, with strong winds and temperatures in the triple digits.
The National Weather Service recorded 103 degrees in San Antonio, matching the record, set in 1918.
Temperatures have hit 100 or higher since Tuesday. Low 90s are normal for June.
In East Texas, wildfires had burned 15,000 acres and part of I-45 was closed.