On April 12, 2012, Ken Campbell who was in command of the 71 Division at the Spicewood fire, spoke with KUT News to share his experience during the Central Texas wildfires.
Campbell: Well, I was off that day. I’m a firefighter with C-Bar fire department and West Lake fire department and Oakhill fire department. Three different fire departments in Travis County. We’re all Emergency Services Districts, which are political subdivisions of the state, we have a property tax, we have a board of commissioners; I used to be a commissioner for 13 years. And I’m an Assistant Chief at C-Bar and a Lieutenant at West Lake and Oakhill. And I was actually off that day and with my boys out in Mason County on the Llano River. And we were kind of messing around at my uncle’s place and swimming in the river and stuff like that.
And, I always carry my radio with me. And we were coming back to Granite Shoals to drop my kids off – well for us to just go spend the night at my parents’ house. And, sort of weirdly, we have 800 radios which only work just outside the county. They stop almost the second you get out of the county, they don’t work anymore, and you can’t just pick up the signals like you can with a normal radio.
And so, I had my radio on, and we were –I was starting to get pages about a fire in Pflugerville, and saw that we were doing a mutual aid to Pflugerville. And in Travis County, we have a system called a County Resource Coordinator. And that’s one of the county fire departments coordinates all of the fire departments including Austin. In Travis County. There are 14 fire departments in Travis County. And this person is usually a West Lake Battalion Chief controls all the resources that are going out. So we don’t – everybody rushed to one fire on a mutual aid and then deplete the whole area. We try to skip them over and send them to different areas. So there was a fire in Pflugerville, and I was able to hear it on my radio too. Which is pretty unusual, because we were all in Mason and Llano County. And so as we were driving back down 1431, I was able to see the fire, from outside of Granite Shoals. I could see at least one fire.
So I started listening some more, and then Lake Travis, which is ESD-6, got toned out for their own fire, in the Steiner Ranch area. And so I was listening to that and starting to hear how the resources were being moved around, and the county resource coordinator was moving things around and how they were responding, and in fact, some of the Lake Travis guys who were going out to Pflugerville were having to turn around and come back. And so – all year we’ve been fighting a series of brush fires. Constantly, every day there was a brushfire somewhere.
And Lake Travis had gone through a lot. Reimers Ranch had burned like three times and there were some other fires. Fortunately we hadn’t lost any major structure. The Alamo set burned and some other – just some sheds and things like that had burned, but we managed to keep a good lid on everything, and get there fast, and get there and put it out. And so I thought this was going to be another one of those deals where you know, we were running a lot of fires, but it wasn’t going to be any major deal. But when I could see the fire from Granite Shoals, it started to make me think that that’s bigger and I was wondering – and I thought, well that can’t be the Steiner Ranch fire, and about that time they started toning out for Pedernales, which is ESD-8, Pedernales Fire Department, which is Travis County ESD number 8. They started toning out for a brush fire there.
And I could see the thing. And as I was listening, I was hearing one of our lieutenants from West Lake was already out at the Pedernales fire. “The Spicewood Fire” is what people call it, but it’s in Pedernales. And, I could hear them talking, and they were already having a lot of problems. I could tell it was a big fire, I could also tell that resources were stretched, and I didn’t know about the Bastrop fire at this point. And we weren’t really talking about that, even though we were sending resources, and the city was sending resources. And so I realized that it was starting to really snowball and there were a lot of fires going on, people were moving around trying to get everything – all the equipment and personnel to where they needed, but we just had them everywhere. And so, as I was listening to that, I told my boys that, I’m probably going to have to go back in.
And, I said: I’m going to drop you off at Nanny and G-daddy’s and I’m gonna call in and see what they’re doing. And so I called the battalion chief at West Lake. And at the time I called him, I wasn’t going to head back in, I knew the fire was somewhere in the 71 area, I figured 71 would later be closed then, I was later hearing radio traffic, they had closed 71 because the fire had already jumped 71 which – where it had jumped was 2 lanes plus a left hand turn lane, plus 2 wide shoulders, so it was 70 or 80 feet. And I heard them talking about how they can’t get resources to the other end of the fire. Because the road was blocked, the fire had jumped it, and the smoke was so bad that they couldn’t send engines down through it. And brush trucks.
KUT News: Is there any other way to get there?
Campbell: Well, the only other way is to go down 1431 through Leander, and then back around, through Austin and that way, which would take an hour, an hour and a half. So I called the battalion chief and I said: Hey, I’m on the west side of the fire. I’m in Granite Shoals now. Do you need me to go over and see what I can do in the 71 area. And he said, yeah, go ahead and go over there.
So I left Granite Shoals, went through Marble Falls, got on 71 and started heading back and the fire was just… the smoke was just… huge on the horizon. From horizon to horizon. And so I, I got to the west side and, Heath Nobel, who is a lieutenant at West Lake, who was at the 71 command, 71 division command at that time, and we divide all the fires into divisions. So we had different command areas. And all of it is coordinated by one incident commander, at least at the Spicewood fire. And that’s how it was at the others too.
So, anyway, I was driving up and there were some constables that had the road blocked off, I talked to them and went up and found Heath in Command 901, which is the unit number that he has, the vehicle number that he has. It’s the command truck and it’s 901, Battalion 901. And so I went up to him and said: I’m here, what do you need me to do? And he said: well, just sit with me right here for right now and let’s figure out, but go ahead and get geared out. So I had to put on my wildland firefighting gear, change into my Nomex and all that stuff, and get my wildland firefighting gear on. And as I was doing that, we started hearing a lot of radio traffic, because the fire was moving so fast at that point, and I could sort of see the fire, but also, all I could really see was a lot of smoke.
KUT News: You still hadn’t heard of the Bastrop, or had you by now?
Campbell: Uh, I don’t know if I had at this point. So, Heath and I were trying to figure out, trying to do what we call a 360. Get around the fire, figure out where the fire lines are. And fortunately for us, where we were on 71, I’m going to say it’s… running roughly east-west there, 71 is.
KUT News: What time is this?
Campbell: This is about four o’clock in the afternoon now.
KUT News: On Sunday.
Campbell: Right, I had come all the way back from Mason, from Llano. And so we were trying to figure out what resources we had and we weren’t – we were told we weren’t getting any more resources. Everybody was stretched out at this point. And even Austin, I talked to one of the Austin chiefs, and they were down to 12 units in the city, cause they were running all over Bastrop, Pflugerville. Coming out to us. And so, Heath wanted to get a better look at the fire and try to figure out, because it had jumped 71 and it was burning from the south to the north. And the wind was blowing basically, south to north. So where we were on the 71 Division, it was good and bad.
It was good in the sense that we were just east of the Blanco County line, and there’s a little triangle of Blanco that crosses 71, so you drive into Blanco and almost out of Blanco in a mile. And then you’re in Burnett County. So really, it’s the Burnett-Travis County line. But, there’s the Blanco County line, and we were about three or four miles east of that, at that point. And it was good for us, because the fire wasn’t burning towards us, it had burned across 71 heading north. And that’s what we were worrying about, is: now it’s heading north, and we were starting to hear, cause it started down in the Pedernales Canyon-Haynie Flat Road area. And it had jumped 71 and now was burning north side of 71 back towards the Pedernales River again. And I don’t know, about four or five miles down, you come to the Pedernales Bridge that you cross on 71 where the light is to go to Briar cliff, which is a city out there.
And – so it had come from the Pedernales-Lake Travis area burned north and then jumped the highway. And it then crossed over, and was about to jump the Pedernales River. And where that happens – the Pedernales River actually goes under the bridge, then comes back around and comes back around again. So, he wanted to go see if he could figure out where the head was. So he took off to do that, left me in command of 71 division, and I had at the time, I think I had maybe two brush trucks and a tanker, and we had one guy who was just – who just showed up with a tanker truck. Wasn’t even with the fire department, but he had one, he was down there freelancing, and fighting the fire on the south side of the right-of-way of 71.
So I wanted to try and get that all coordinated and get people set up but the problem that we were having was that the radio traffic got really kind of scary because we were getting calls from one of the Lake Travis engines and one of the Pedernales units, and they were in the Pedernales station on Hanyie Flat Road, and the fire was burning over them. They were having to shelter in place. They couldn’t leave, they couldn’t get out. And they couldn’t fight the fire. So, some of them went into the station, the Lake Travis guys went into a house, and just huddled down there while the fire burned over them. And so we were getting real worried about personnel issues and things like that.
So I was trying to get a handle on resources, and what the fire was doing, and what kind of life safety issues I had. You know, property is bad to burn, but it can be replaced. And so, we had firefighters in trouble and we had civilians in trouble, and we were trying to get everybody out, and I could not get back across the Pedernales bridge because just further east of me 100 feet – in fact, when I drove up, there was a picture of it in The Statesman, from the west side, and it just shows a, an Austin Travis County EMS unit, maybe a constables car, and then it’s just black. And so I was sitting there on the highway left-hand turn lane, they had closed down the road, and I was sitting on the highway, trying to coordinate all this, and all of a sudden, it just blacked-out. You couldn’t see anything.
The smoke was so thick, we couldn’t see anything, so we actually had to back up west to try and get out of it. So we couldn’t even find the fire to fight it at that point. We knew it was on the south side, we knew it had jumped to the north side, but the wind was protecting us where we were, because it was actually sort of blowing into the fire line, so the fire line was just advancing very slowly. And you would do what we call fingers: it would inch out a little bit and then it would come back in. So the wind was just taking little bites instead of just roaring across.
So finally about, I don’t know, it was getting close to where it was starting to get dark, the big fire front was approaching us. And now I could see it coming through the woods and it was probably about a half a mile away. And it went from you know, horizon to horizon, and as I was looking south where the main body of the fire was, and it was coming, to me, from the east, from the south-east pretty much, I was looking back in the canyons and the hills and all I could see was this big glow of smoke, and then all of a sudden, the fire front came through some trees and entered an open sort of prairie area.
An open area, and it was probably about six to eight feet high in flame-lengths, and just coming – and it wasn’t coming fast cause the wind was kind of pushing against it and kind of pushing it this way, but it was still advancing towards us. And so at that point, I figured I had a good anchor point on the road. And I really didn’t want to send people in to go fight that fire when it’s advancing towards us. But I took my truck and there was an LCRA right-of-way that had some high power lines, high-tension power lines. And so I was able to get the gate cut there, and take my truck and drive down an access road along the power lines, and as I went down and around, and it’s an old Caliche road, I went down and around and I looked back to my, to the right, to the east, and by looking at the maps that I had and the satellite photos I had, I knew that there was – the Pedernales Ranch was right there, the Paleface Ranch was right there. And I looked over and all I could see was 20-foot-flames, I could see a big huge cell-barn on fire.
I could see other buildings on fire. And I could see that it was sort of moving my way, so I went on down a little bit farther, probably about a mile down that road. And where I was going was actually where the main body of fire was, I didn’t know it at the time because it was just, it was, it was too hard to see anything. And I had a lot of bushes and things flaring up all around me, and so I was trying to figure out, you know, where are these fires going, and I figured: I’m safe this way. It’s not going to go into Blanco County, it’s not going into Burnett County ‘cause it’s going against the wind now. It’s slowly eating, taking little bites out, with those fingers, and moving towards us, but the main body was moving almost due south.
And so I was trying to figure out how we could get in there and fight it. And what you want to do is you want to get – the best way to fight a wild land fire is find what we call the head of the fire, where the fire started. And then there’s usually a right and a left flank, cause it burns in sort of a V-pattern. And so that V-pattern – we were on this right hand side of the V-pattern. And then 71’s here, in front of us at the top of the V. And we’re – and it’s burned across there, so what I want to do is try to find the head and then start burning up, putting it out up this flank with my resources. And we had a big water supply problem; cause there was no hydrants around there. So I was also trying to get water supplies set up and get some more tankers, which we couldn’t get, but fortunately, Joe Don Dockery, the – one of the county commissioners in Burnett County, his people had heard that and they have some over-the-road tankers that they use for road construction. And they sent two of those, they just came, sent themselves.
And brought us some water, and then we had to set up at Pedernales Elementary, which is all the way back in Spicewood, cause that’s the only place that there’s a hydrant. And then they would bring the water to us; we would fill up the brush trucks, which carried two to three hundred gallons of water, and then compressed air foam systems that use foam to stretch the water out. And so, I could not find the head of the fire. I couldn’t find where to get in there. So, at that point the fire was advancing towards me where I was, down on this LCRA right-of-way. And I could see that everything was lost sort of inside there, and there was not a lot of black. You always want to try and fight the fire from the black area and not the green area. The black means the burned area; the green area means the unburned area. You want to be inside the black cause it’s already burned, and it’s safer.
The problem is, is that the way the smoke was working and everything from the head of the fire, I couldn’t even get in the black area. And the way the fire-front was six to eight foot flame lengths, or more. And burning probably 100 feet a minute or so. We couldn’t get in there and start cutting it off and then working up the flank.
KUT News: Because it was so smoky, you couldn’t see?
Campbell: So smoky and – and just the gasses, I mean, being in there is dangerous just because it’s taken all the oxygen out. And so, you really don’t have good atmosphere to breathe. And so I was really having a conundrum of how do I, you know, even start fighting this fire? Now the other thing that I could have done, which is an unsafe thing to do, is start at 71 where it had crossed where this right side of the V was at 71, and try to work back that way, but the fire was moving. And so there really wasn’t a safe area there either. But the good news was that it was not really moving my way, and it had, it was already doing what it was doing which was heading north. And Heath was trying to figure out where that was. And I was listening to the radio traffic over the next hour or two, he was able to – it had jumped the Pedernales river, and got into another area, and I can’t remember, it’s called Lost Canyon Trail.
Jumped the Pedernales River there and then jumped the Pedernales River again, which at this point, you know, the Pedernales River isn’t even a river anymore. There’s little pools of water and it’s mainly grass and weeds down there now. It’s all dried out there because of the drought. But it, it wasn’t burning across the valley, and across the streambed. It was jumping and there were embers floating in the air that were as big as my fist. And what people don’t realize is, is that it’s not these little embers, I mean, the way the wood gets heated up, even though it’s heavy, it’ll float. It’ll fly.
KUT News: Particularly in wind.
Campbell: Yes. And the wind was very strong; I probably had sustained winds of 30 MPH at that point. And so those embers were shooting across and they were going across the Pedernales and they were growing, going across 71, but I was just trying to figure out how to kill this flank. And then we could work up the flank and come up to it where it was going, but by this time it had jumped the Pedernales twice, and it was now heading further into Travis County into ESD 6’s area along Hamilton Pool Road, which is a road out of Bee Cave. And so as I said earlier, the Reimers Ranch area, there’s two different Reimers areas, there’s the park, and then there’s an actual ranch. They had already burned twice, or three times that year.
So I didn’t think there was anything else to burn. So I was pretty happy that it was – if it was out of control and going that way, it’s a good place for it to go, because there’s not going to be a lot more fuel for it to sustain it. The problem is is that not all of that ranch is burned and it had burned in spots, so it was really roaring. And by this time, Hays County units were trying to muster at- at Ranch Road 12 and Hamilton Pool. That’s how far this fire had gone at this point. And I don’t have any idea how many miles that is, but that’s a good distance.
KUT News: So what time is this?
Campbell: This is probably around six to seven. It’s getting dark, I think it probably got dark around 5:30, it’s getting dark. And we’re – that’s really a problem. We have what we call: watch-outs. And you don’t want to fight a fire where you don’t know the terrain. You don’t want a fire, fight a fire at night. You know, there’s certain things you don’t want to do, there are watch-out situations, cause that’s how people get killed. And so I was walking into all of these watch-out situations, unknown terrain, at night, don’t know where the fire is, all those things. And so they were trying to stop it at Hamilton Pool Road and the Reimer’s Ranch area, so I was going to figure out how to get this flank down because it was burning back into another ranch which is actually owned by the state of Texas, but is leased by a gentleman who – he was running around and I couldn’t get him to stop. He was running around in his truck and I couldn’t get him to stop because he could tell me more about the terrain and where it is, and of course, as it’s getting darker, I can now see nothing but flame.
The bad news about – well the bad news during the day was that I couldn’t see the flame but I could see the smoke, but I couldn’t really see where the fire was. The good news about it turning dark is now I can see the flames, but I can’t figure out how to get to them. And that was one of the biggest problems we have, is we have a ton of little driveways and a ton of little houses isolated out there, and ranch houses and ranchettes. And you can’t tell how to get to anything. And the maps are not going to show all these little driveways and stuff so I was having my guys – we finally decided to hit the 71 part of the V and start working down that way, which is a highly dangerous way to do it. But that was the only way we could even figure out how to get down to where we could figure out where the main fire was.
KUT News: You’re still on the east V?
Campbell: We’re on the – it would be – it would be the west V. And the right hand side of that burning north. And so I had two Lake Travis trucks, I had a couple of trucks from Dripping Springs. I had a truck from Pedernales, brush trucks. I had an engine from Lake Travis. I had the two brush trucks from Burnett County roads, and then me, and that was pretty much it. And we were isolated cause again we couldn’t drive any trucks, in fact we had to stop trying to drive them through because trucks were almost running into each other, the smoke was so thick that they couldn’t see, so we really couldn’t, and now when I drove it a little bit, the smoke was really thick, but when I drove it a little bit, I had power lines that had come down and they were down over 71 before I could get a brush truck under them or a pick-up truck, but I couldn’t get an engine. And an engine would really do me any good anyway, except for water supply, but I had the Burnett County truck so I was doing alright there.
So to make a long story short as far as that goes, now I could see where my fire was, but I couldn’t figure out again how to get down to it. And I was sitting there on 71 in the center lane, it’s dark, it was about seven or eight o’clock, and I look back towards the Briar Cliff area and Paleface Park Road. And I see two houses on fire up on hills and I could tell they were houses cause all I could see was flames, but I could see squares in the flames where the windows were. And that’s inside the black, it’s unfortunate, that’s an area that’s already burned, there’s not going to be much I can do for that, I mean, it’s burning.
But I could see two or three houses burning off to my right on the north side of 71. And so I was trying to radio that in and, and I was trying to find driveways to get down there and try to figure out what’s going on, but we were working in the dark, back south along the west V or the right V, and we’re able to knock down a big chunk of that line. Once we finally got about a mile back to where I was able to drive down the LCRA right-of-way earlier in the day, once we got down to there, the terrain changed. It became very hilly, with a big valley kind of thing, a swell, that was just chocked full of ceder and down trees and logs from years, and the whole thing was on fire. And I could not figure how to get down there, you know. The only way to get down there was go directly into the fire and that’s not going to be a good plan.
But we finally got that rancher to stop, and he was all worried about his property, which I understand, but he was able to show us how to go through his gate, and then back around some other gates, to come up on the other side of that fire on a ridge that overlooked it from the, from the west side basically. The west and the nor – west and the south side. And we started working in there, and the problem was the fire was just so big, and there were just huge piles of trees burning, and my area was marked basically by the LCRA right-of-way that I drove down there- there was another LCRA right-of-way that was perpendicular to that running east-west about two or three miles parallel to 71. And in between those two right-of-ways where the power lines were, that’s where the main fire was. And we just, we literally didn’t have good roads, we couldn’t get down in there. We drove our trucks down in there a couple of times; we started trying to put it out. I had a lot of nervous firefighters who were like: “We’re in the dark, we don’t know the terrain, I don’t want to get down there, I only have a limited water supply,” and we were having to go back a mile or two to get back to our water, because we couldn’t take our tankers off the roads, so.
If we ran out of water, and I only had about four or five trucks at that point, we were just trying to rotate them around. And so we were knocking the fire down, but we couldn’t get to the main body of the fire, but I was real happy that I stopped that flank. And we got that flank all under control. It wasn’t contained by any stretch of the imagination, but it wasn’t going anywhere. The wind was working in our favor, and the terrain was working in our favor. But it was really burning there and now if you go east back towards Austin from where we were looking over that ridge, that’s where Paleface Ranch Road is and Haynie Flat Road and a lot – that whole area with all those houses had pretty much burned. And I couldn’t, we couldn’t really get to do that, and there was an LCRA substation that we were trying to get to to orient ourselves, to the east. And that was basically my area of service, the next area over was the… I think they call it the Pedernales Division. And then we had another division that was on the other side of the Pedernales River and that we call that the river division.
So about, 9 or 10 o’clock that night, they merged the river division and the 71 Division into my division. But I had no idea, what the river division really had, but by about 10 or 11, maybe even 12, the fire had sort of damped down in the night, the wind had died down a little bit, the humidity and come up just a little bit, to where it kind of caused the fire to go down and I was able to drive and start driving down driveways trying to find these houses that were burning and find what houses were not burning. And everything had pretty much been evacuated, so I wasn’t finding people who could help me or anything like that. But I was able to figure out now, by about midnight, the whole perimeter of my area, and the fire and how to get to everything, and get it all mapped out.
So, at that point we were in sort of a holding pattern, we were going in and we were putting out things that we could and sort of trying to inch through it, put out the big piles as best you could, but you know even you put out gallons on those, the logs are so thick, they’re all piled up on each other. They’re just going to flare up again when the wind comes back up. So we ended up staying there all night that night, in the dark and fighting the fire, and trying to get, at least that flank knocked down. And the – from the radio traffic I was hearing, the Hays County guys had pretty much got it stopped at 12 and Ranch Road 12 and Hamilton Pool. And then the other eastern flank was pretty much stopped on the south side of 71… the north side of 71, by the Pedernales River.
Some of it kind of went across, but where the bridge is and stuff it was safe. It was safe on that south side, on the north side is where it jumped the river twice. So we ended up staying there. I stayed there till probably 10 o’clock in the morning. And then we started getting relief crews in. And I was relieved, I can’t remember, I think Heath or somebody else came back, and I gave them a tour of how to get everywhere, what gates got to where, what roads went where. And, that took about an hour to an hour and a half to sort of orient, and they started working on more fire, early that morning, and trying to settle it down, cause it was now burning back to the west towards Blanco County and towards this man’s house, and he was very concerned about his donkeys and his cattle and stuff, and so we were trying to save that house.
I don’t know ultimately what happened to that house, but I went home around 10, which I had to drive back through it all, from the west back to the east, going back towards Austin and Bee Cave. And as I was driving along, all the fences were burned down along there, there used to be a lot of on the north side, there used to be a – the south side, I’m trying to think, that was burning north to south, so on the south side – all these nice wood plank fences, white-wash board fences were all along that area on that side. And they were all gone, melted, some of them were plastic, they were all melted, it was all down, everything was just black.
Everything had burned on both sides of 71, all the way up basically to the bridge.
KUT News: This was 10 in the morning?
Campbell: Yeah, well, this was actually at night when I was noticing all this. But the next morning I did notice when I went into the command, which was at the main Pedernales station, at station 802 which is in Briar Cliff, checked in and checked out, went home, took a shower, cause I needed to go back and pick up the kids and everything, it was Monday now and I needed to pick them up from school. School was Tuesday. And sort of get them ready. So I went home, and then, just to get some stuff, and then drove back out to Granite Shoals, slept for about an hour or two, then was gonna bring the boys back in, but by this point it was.. I couldn’t go in 71 or anything and so I had to go out 1431. At this point, Leander was having their second big fire. And they were still trying to contain the Steiner Ranch fire. And they were still trying to contain the Spicewood fire. And 71 was closed, basically from the Blanco County line all the way in.
And so I had to go 1431 and about that time I’m listening to my radio again, and the Leander fire was starting up really big. And I can’t remember how many they lost, but I think they lost 25 houses at that point. Lake Travis, we already know about 25 houses. We didn’t know how many houses we’d lost at that point or really even how big the fire was, although it was huge. So I drove back with Leander with the boys and came back down 183 and then came back on Ranch Road 620, past the Steiner Ranch to get back to my house. And got them dropped off and taken care of and then the next morning, well that night, I got a call: we need you to come back in and take over 71 again to relieve the division commander.
So around – well actually, let me back up, I’m sorry. When I was heading back to Granite Shoals on Monday and it was probably about 10:30. At this point, what we had come up with was: we were getting a ton of calls from people, saying, “My house is on fire” or “There’s a fire over here” or whatever. And we couldn’t just sit there and send all these resources there because we’d be out of resources by the second call. So what my job was doing Sunday night and the later time was: whenever we’d get a call about something on fire, I’d go to it, and then I’d determine what kind of resources I needed out of the limited resources to take care of the situation. Well, Heath was way on the west side and he was division 71 commander, cause this is now Monday, midmorning. And I’m coming back from Bee Cave heading out to Granite Shoals, and we get a call for guys calling saying there’s a house on fire and a telephone pole on fire on Pedernales Canyon Trail which is on the east side of the 71 bridge of Paleface Ranch Road and 71. It’s east of that, about, I don’t know half, to three quarters of a mile.
So I said, well I’m here, I got on the radio and said well I’m right there; I can go check it out real quick. And so I turned on to this road and – Pedernales County Trail and there was nothing burned. And I kept thinking- and I drove literally, it felt like miles, course it was the first time I had been on this road, it was very curvy and everything, I felt like I had gone at least a mile. And I see a Southwestern Bell truck on the side of the road and he’s trying to get electricity restored, those kinds of things. And the telephone, excuse me, the telephone restored, and it had the LCRA people all that night, and they’d shut down the substation so all the power was out everywhere.
But, I’m thinking, “Where’s this fire? How can there even be fire over here?” So I drive down another mile or so and then all of a sudden it just went from green cedar brush kind of stuff, to all of a sudden it was just black, open land with twigs sticking up, occasionally. And so I found the telephone poles on fire, which was actually on a person’s property. Their house had burned to the ground. The house next to it had burned to the ground. The house next to that had burned to the ground. And then right down at the bottom, this is at the bottom of the bend, where it jumped and then jumped again across the Pedernales, so basically I’m on a spit of land where the Pedernales River curves around. And I get down to the bottom and the house is safe, but the carport’s gone with two cars burned up in it and on the other side it’s just ash, it’s just gray ash. There’s not even any trees or anything anymore. And so that’s what, I was sitting there going, you know, where’s this fire? This guy’s crazy or whatever. I don’t understand why he’s talking about a fire; it’s just green, green, green, black. So it had jumped across the end of that land, and then burned across again, and then jumped across to the other side.
So I was able to scout that area out, cause nobody had ever really been in that area before, so I was able to scout that area out, and then I got up on where this house had burned where the telephone pole was on fire, and I sent a brush truck, I requested a brush truck just to come and put that out, it really wasn’t going to do anything. There were occasionally people who were driving around who shouldn’t have been in the area, and they were calling things in which probably made things worse, than really helped. But we couldn’t really stop them, they’re not supposed to be there, but they’re concerned about their houses and those kinds of things, so I understand, they were supposed to be evacuated.
KUT News: So that one house that didn’t burn, everything else that burned around it… just –
Campbell: Pure luck.
KUT News: Capriciousness of the fire and the wind.
Campbell: Yes, and they were down sort of a slope too, so it was able to burn around them and it sort of jumped onto the other side, it jumped across. Which was probably easily four or five hundred – Well, it was four or five hundred feet easily, three to six hundred yards. And so anyway, I – but we were on the cliff side because it’s the inside of the bend. The other side is going to have the deposits and it’s going to flat and come up a little bit more, but it was a little cliffy over there too, but we were up on a cliff, probably 100 feet or more above the river. And that’s when I finally got the view back towards Hamilton Pool Road and we’re headed where it had gone, and there were buildings on fire over there.
The irony is the way it works is, is the only way to get to that area across the lake is actually go back across west on the 71 bridge and go down another road, and then all the way back around, and then come back up on that side. So the map was sort of reversed, every time you thought you knew how to get there, you had to figure out another way to get there. So we were able to put that out, and I was able to spot the fire over there, and I was able to direct some more of the brush trucks, to the other side, ‘cause there was a building that was being threatened that was under construction, and there was some other houses that had literally burned, it had burned through this whole neighborhood, and the neighborhood’s kind of spread out and they’re probably about four or five acre lots. Fortunately, it had burned all the trees out, it had burned all the grass out, but it had not hit a single house except for this one, on the other side.
So I went around there, and that took me about 20 or 30 minutes, cause you gotta go back around and go back down. We started working on that fire, and then I left and went to Granite Shoals and picked up the boys. And then Tuesday and Wednesday and Thursday, I was back out there again, for 24-hour periods. Being 71 and river command, and then going back and just spotting it all out. What disappointed me was that, on the – where we were the first day on that western flank, where we had it stopped pretty good, but the way that terrain was back down in that valley and all the built up stuff, it actually was able, when the wind shifted, to burn further west, and it burned into Blanco County. I don’t know if the gentleman’s house was saved, he had a lot of grass around it, so he was probably alright. And I was never able to get back into the gate to go check on the house.
But it disappointed me because it burned probably another mile or two, back to the west over the next few days. And we actually had to cut bulldozer lines back around about a mile west of that LCRA right-of-way that crosses 71 down to the other LCRA right-of-way. And, so we were able to cross down there and get it all contained. And finally had it all contained, so now it was just a matter of putting it out, and I think the second or third shift that I was out there I had a couple of engine- Austin engine companies and they were rotating in about every 3 or 4 hours and so I was constantly getting a new crew. Which was kind of hard to do cause once we got something going, I had to deal with shift change and a new crew. But I also had some county units and things like that.
So we were able to go back in and spot it out, but again it was daytime, you could see smoke, but you couldn’t really see how to get to it. At night, you could see the fire, but then you couldn’t figure out how to get to it.
KUT News: So what day is this now?
Campbell: This is the Thursday perhaps.
KUT News: And did you have all sorts of help from all over, firefighters or what?
Campbell: No we really didn’t. The first day STAR Flight helps us doing water drops, they’re trained to do that in addition to their medical, and the resources were so wrapped up in Bastrop county, still working on the Steiner fire, the Pflugerville fire was out, the Leander flame was going. Spicewood fire was going, so we really didn’t have a lot more resources. I really didn’t have any more resources, maybe different trucks or different crews. But I still only had about three or four brush trucks, and an engine company or two. So it was, you know, I only had at most 12 personnel, 12-15 personnel at any time.
We had a couple of the gators, the little golf cart kind of things that we could use to get around. The problem was that this fire especially on the western side there, inside of the dozer line back to the east where it had burned back towards Blanco County. It got under every one of the cedars and the way the cedars are out there because they’ve been able to grow for so many years, which 100 years ago, this was not like it is.
It’s always interesting to me to hear people say: “Well I don’t want to see y’all cut down those trees or anything.” The cedars don’t belong here, this is grassland. Except down in the valley where the rivers were where it was cotton and stuff, and live oaks. And it would burn all the time. Then we started putting out the fires, that’s when all this trash stuff started growing up, all the cedars, all this other low vegetation that now creates this huge problem for us. This is not native vegetation. People think it is, but it is nothing like it looked like. I read a story of about 150 years ago where a guy rode from Austin to San Antonio in the spring, and he was going through grasslands. And the bottom of his horse was red and blue from the paint – bonnet – from the bluebonnets and indian paintbrushes rubbing against his horse’s belly. And he was talking about that, but see that’s how it used to be, but it’s not how it is now.
So people drive out West and into the hill country and think: this is beautiful, all this – is not what it’s supposed to be. Because we don’t let it burn anymore. Which is a good thing, but it’s also a bad thing, because it creates a heavy fuel load, and when it goes, it goes. And so, anyway, these cedars were probably 10 feet tall or so, but they were about 15 to 20 feet wide, but they were like a … like a bulb. They would come up from about a six to twelve inch root, and trunk and then almost immediately branch out into all these branches to where they weren’t even like a Christmas tree; they were just like a big – onion. And what the fire would do was it would burn up under there and it would burn through the short grass between them and they were not spaced very well, right up next to each other. The grass would burn underneath them, and the duff, but then the fire would just hunker down in their root ball. So it was really kind of interesting cause you had these things blow up, and they’d literally blow up like – The Bloomin’ Onion that you have at one of the restaurants, TGIF or whatever, you know where the onion sort of folds out. But they were flat on the ground, with this fire in the middle like a candle, and they would just sort of blow up. So we had to get under every cedar tree that we found, and every cedar tree we got under there was flame. And so it was literally having to go from cedar tree to cedar tree with very limited water supplies, cut through that cedar tree. Try to put that out as best you could so it wouldn’t get to the next cedar tree.
KUT News: How many cedar trees are you talking about?
Campbell: Thousands, millions. I mean, it was an enormous task to try and find them and then put them out. And then we’d have live oaks which were more hardy and they were able to weather better, but even them, they had burned so bad that you know you had big, we call them dead-man snags, because they’re on fire up in the trunks and the branches up there and you can’t really see because it’s inside the tree. But you might see smoke and those things are falling off, those limbs are falling off as they burn through. So you know, at night you could find all that stuff. It’s just getting through and negotiating the terrain at night and figuring out where you are, at day you can’t see this stuff. So it was almost like we had to wait till nightfall to go out there and go back and spot fire this thing out and get underneath all those cedars and start pulling out all that stuff.
KUT News: And when did you start doing all of that? Are you saying –
Campbell: Well we started doing that the next… probably by Wednesday. We had it contained, we had the dozer line in, at least on the western flank and I think they all had it pretty much contained at least in the Reimer Ranch area as well, and by containment, it doesn’t mean it’s just that it’s not going anywhere, we’ve got fire lines set up, it may or may not jump those, but that’s what contained means, if it’s 60% contained, then they’ve got some sort of fire line they’ve got around it 60%, of what the fire is or whatever.
KUT News: What is a fire line?
Campbell: Fire lines are what we cut to inhibit the spread of the fire, so it could be anything from, depending on what kind of terrain you’re in, we could cut, what we do is cut a fire line where we, you’ve probably seen the forest service guys, and we all have the same stuff, the yellow and the green pants and little helmets and the backpacks, and they’re literally there with hoes, and rakes, and shovels, and pulaskis which are like a type of pick-axe. And we can dig just a little trench down to what we call mineral earth, you get rid of all the duff all the dead leaves, all the overgrowth, all that stuff, you dig down, down to mineral earth, and it can be 6 inches wide, it can be 12 inches wide, it can be 10 feet wide, it can be a dozer line where you run a dozer and do the same thing there. And so, that’s what we were doing, is either with a dozer or cutting line, trying to contain. And that’s what’s called a fire line is just some open stretch of ground where you can defend from that area, the fire, and again you always want to work from the bottom of the fire to the top, you don’t want to come down into the fire, you want to work up so that way the smoke’s not in your face. The problem was we had all these pockets, to where the smoke, we couldn’t get in there, even if we got in there, the smoke was so bad, and the fire was so bad we couldn’t actually get in there and work up the V and work up the flanks of the fire.
But this was, by this time, this is Wednesday and Thursday when I went out there. We were mainly spot firing, which means we were spot firing out and going, finding little spot fires and putting them out, and trying to get it knocked out. Again, it was contained now, it was just a matter of putting it out, and some of this stuff doesn’t go out until, it rains. You know, like when Yellowstone burned about 20 years ago, it didn’t go out until the winter. When it finally snowed. And finally put it out. So, that’s what I was concerned about is you know, we’re not going to have any rain for a long time. So we’ve really got to get this down. Plus there’s – the way the fire burned, it didn’t just burn in a straight wave where it just burned everything as it went. It would go around whole copses of trees. Or go around whole meadows.
Because it would change with the wind or find a better flame than it, you know better fuel load that it liked and could burn through faster. So we still had all these green areas in the black area. And that’s kind of what Reimers Ranch had and that’s why it was able to burn again. Is that you had these green areas in the area where it was black and you could still have the fire come back through there again.
KUT News: So – “Oh, we forgot about that part, that bit.” – so, goes back to that.
Campbell: Yes, so that’s what you want to do is you want to – it’s supposed to be cold and out. You’re supposed to be able to touch it with your hand, and if you can touch it with your bare hand, and it’s not burning you, you’ve got the fire out. But that’s a very labor intensive deal, because we really, we can’t get big engines back there, we can’t get a lot of water back there, the brush trucks only carry so much water, and even then, the way the terrain was and everything, we couldn’t get the brush trucks there. With the gators, we were able to get crews in there with what we call port – well they’re port-a-packs, and they’re – depending on how they are but, they’re just backpacks full of water and they’re about 10-15 gallons. And they have a little sprayer on them and you spray little jets of water out of them. So we were, that’s what we were having to do is go find every one of those fires, spray them down, go back and get water from a brush truck, when that brush truck ran out then send the brush truck back to go get water from the tankers. Then the tankers had to go back to Spicewood elementary to get the water there so our water supply was a big problem.
But that’s the kind of level that we got down to, it was almost like hand to hand fighting versus sweeping through with tanks and everything, we couldn’t sweep through with our tanks, we were down there having to fight every little fire on an individual basis, with two or three guys, which is a lot of walking, a lot of work and a lot of heat.
KUT News: So how many people were working?
Campbell: It was still about 15-20 in that area. And again we were getting calls in, so I was going around and making sure my fire lines were still that they hadn’t been jumped or anything. And also, when people would call in and say: hey, there’s something on fire over here, then we’d go chase it down. And we spent probably the next two weeks, doing that because even then, there would be trees that had to have fire in the roots or fire in a branch or part of the trunk that had now finally caught on fire and were open flame again, so even, and I’m a prosecutor, I’m a city attorney out in Bar Cliff. And I can’t remember, I think, maybe a week, maybe a week and a half later I was out there for court and I took the judge who, he and I used to be firefighters out there in West Lake, but he lives in Dripping Springs now, I took him around on a little tour to show him that, and even then you know, we were still getting calls on the radio: there’s a fire over here.
It’s important to us that we put those out because we get calls on them. But generally those are in the black so we don’t care about them. Does that make sense? I mean, we care, we’re going to go put them out, or they’re going to put themselves out because there’s just nothing else they can burn, but that tree or whatever that thing is on fire, and if it’s in the black. It’s not like it’s going anywhere, cause it doesn’t have any more fuel to go to. And we can’t get out there and hit every tree out of thousands, so that’s what we were still trying to do is go hit every tree and of course we’re getting a lot of calls about: “Well, there’s a fire over here, there’s a fire over there.” And that’s why we had to go check everyone and go out there because it might be a fire that’s in the green area again, this might be a fire that’s one of those cedar trees has blown up, I can’t remember the exact facts but we were taught in our wild land firefighting class and I think this is right. But one of the forest service folks told us that cedar puts off a volatile oil already, and so it’s pretty much ready to go, and it puts it out in the air, and, it blows up at about 140-145 degrees, so if you get a flame coming on there, and it’s a real hot day where that cedar is putting off a lot of these oils and stuff and I’ve seen them before. They literally go up like a candle; I mean they go up (snap) that fast.
They just go, you hear a lot of crackling and the whole tree is just gone. It’s pretty amazing the way it just, the cedars just go and they blow up.
KUT News: They’re like match sticks.
Campbell: They are. That’s exactly – that’s what it looks like, I mean they literally – and that’s what I was saying with the Bloomin’ Onion, the onion coming open from all the branches, cause the root ball in the center would just blow up, and then all the limbs would fall down flat on the ground.
KUT News: Cause all the sap was working it.
Campbell: Right, and then the oils that come off the cedar, and it’s you know you have this little flame there, and the next thing you know, you’d have a whole tree on fire. And it happens, (snap), I mean, within seconds, the whole tree is just gone.
KUT News: So, is all this volunteer?
Campbell: No, we have paid staff and volunteer staff. In Travis County, every department in Travis County has some paid staff, some of us have paid staff during the day only, because that’s when the volunteers are at work, when I first started with my fire department 20 years ago, we had about seven or eight people who lived and worked in the district. So we were always able to muster the proper amount of people that were needed. Now we’ve all – My area where I live off of Cuernavaca, we’ve all become bedroom communities to Austin. And we’ve had more people move in out there, and there’s not the same community spirit if you will. You know, we have new people move in and I’ve had this happen before you know, people just assume Austin is going to come put out there fire. They go buy or build a million dollar home, have no idea who’s going to come put it out. Or who’s going to come to them if they have a heart attack.
When we were out there, we had a guy fall off a cliff on Barton Creek, and it took us about four or five hours, we had STAR Flight out there; we had an Austin EMS at the time. A unit from them. We had a West Lake unit and we had two C-Bar units, and this was a technical rescue where we had to go down the cliff on ropes get the guy in a stokes basket, bring him back up, we were trying to take him out towards the Oakhill area towards the Y because it was all flat across that area but, nobody could figure out how to get across over there, and it would take hours to figure that out and so we had to bring him back up. But we’re sitting there, and there’s all these homes in this sub-division and, all minimum of four to five hundred-thousand dollar homes and these folks, they’re right on the cliffs so they were all between their houses and the cliff, we’ve been able to drive our trucks back there in the Greenbelt area. And we’re there and we bring this guy back up with the helicopter there, and we save this guy’s life, put him on a helicopter, I’m getting back in one of the trucks, and I shut the door, and there’s this lady holding a glass of wine because this was 6:00, instead of watching the news or whatever, they could watch a live fire thing. Yeah, rescue. And she’s holding a glass of wine and she looks at me and she goes: You mean we have a volunteer firefighting department out here?
She said that to me and I was like: Really? You’ve bought this huge house and you have no idea who puts out your fire? But my point is that we’ve changed because, now we don’t – we have the volunteers but they’re available at night. So at night you might get, you could get 17 people in your house for your backhurting. But during the day, there may be nobody available cause they’re all at their jobs. And employers are not like they used to be and say: yeah, just go do that.
KUT News: And are you describing the Spicewood community in general?
Campbell: Well really all of Travis County, Spicewood’s the same way. At Pedernales Fire Department, they have a lot of volunteers. We have a lot of volunteers. But they –
KUT News: So you’re saying Travis County outside of the city limits of Austin.
Campbell: Yeah, outside of the city limits. Austin doesn’t have any volunteers. They’re all paid staff, full time paid staff. And most of us in Travis County are all full time, 24/7 paid staff too. At this point there really aren’t a lot of jurisdictional issues anymore. For example, West Lake would go fight a fire in Austin and, and this is sort of an exaggeration but, they could literally run a call with two or three engines, and a battalion chief from Austin may come over but the whole thing’s in Austin. And conversely, Austin could come put out a fire in our area, and our battalion chief may go over, because we’re now dispatching the closest available unit, we’re not worried about who’s territory it is. This is an Austin fire even though Austin would take 20 minutes to get there and we got a station across the street. We’re not worried about those issues anymore and since we all got full time 24/7 paid staff working shifts –
KUT News: In Travis County outside city limits.
Campbell: In Travis County, right, except for a couple departments which have day-time staff only because they still haven’t – they either don’t have the funding to do it, or they don’t have the need to do it yet.
KUT News: But then you have all the volunteers.
Campbell: Then you have the volunteers on top of that.
KUT News: So how many peop- you say 12-15 people helped you fight throughout that experience?
Campbell: Yeah, in my division.
KUT News: In your division.
Campbell: Now on the whole fire I don’t know how many people were there, but there were probably 40, I don’t know, 50.
KUT News: And can you estimate the acreage of your division.
Campbell: I really have no way of doing that; I think they may have told me at one point. But I really don’t know, but I’d say it was four or five thousand acres. It was easily; it was easily a ten-square mile area.
KUT News: And you would call that area the Pedernales.
Campbell: Well, that wasn’t even the Pedernales that was my division. That was my division of the fire. ‘Cause we still had the whole Pedernales, Haynie Flat, Pedernales Ranch area that was another division.
KUT News: How many divisions in the Pedernales area?
Campbell: There were 3 initially, the river and then the- I can’t remember if they called it Paleface or Pedernales, and then the 71 Division. And then we merged the river and the 71 together. And so there were two different divisions and we were all working under a common unified command, and the command would tell us where to go, but then we had division commanders there and then the personnel underneath them, and we divided it out because of the topography, and where the roads were, even though the only access to the Pedernales or Paleface division was off of 71. Their entrance was in my command area, but they were working down in that other area.
KUT News: So continue on with your story. So now we’re into, now you’re putting out these cedars, Wednesday, Thursday, and then into the next week and –
Campbell: Into the next week, and they were still – I can’t remember exactly when they shut down the Pedernales/Spicewood command, but I would think it was about a week and a half to two weeks into it. You know, Bastrop was still going pretty strong. Steiner Ranch had wound down. They were still working on getting it spotted out. Leander was down. Pflugerville I think was down that day, but I really don’t know cause I wasn’t paying attention to it that much. It may have been another day or so, after the initial Labor Day start of it all, or that Sunday start of it all. So it was – it took about two weeks, cause I went out there even, like I say, a week and a half later, and we were still roaming. We were still out there putting out the spot fires and, for the cause. People were trying to move back in.
LCRA did a brilliant job of bringing electricity back to the areas as fast as they could. They hate to shut down electricity but, I had two high power lines and I said to them, I said: I don’t want to be fighting around this, I don’t want one of those poles to come down or towers to come down, and I’ve got high power electricity, high tension electricity out there to deal with, on top of everything else, being in the dark, not being able to figure where the fire was, so they. And I think they had already done it, I think it had already shorted out cause it burned over there, their substation out there. So they told me all the wires were dead which meant that nobody had electricity at that point in that area. But I really don’t know how long it lasted but, two weeks, a week and a half to two weeks of just constantly out there. It of course scaled back, just to the Pedernales fire department guys to a large extent and then we would supplement them, as they needed additional brush trucks or whatever. Went back to the CRC system where as you needed things, you were coordinating, and for two weeks definitely we were still coordinating, we were still getting Austin units you know, every fire department in Travis County was moving around, helping people out, going to Bastrop if they could, but we had enough in Travis County at that point to deal with.
And that’s what I was saying earlier about STAR Flight is that, the first day, that Sunday, before it was getting dark, what we really needed was some aerial. And usually on these fires, I mean, I fought a fire in our neighborhood that threatened homes about a week to a week and a half before this, and we were able to get it contained pretty fast but we were really scared because it was really burning up into people’s backyards. And we had STAR Flight out there, and they were dropping water from the helicopter. We had a forest service spotter plane; you know all these things that could help us. We didn’t get any of that STAR Flight, that Sunday came from either Steiner Ranch or Bastrop or wherever they were, Pflugerville, they came and did a flyover real quick, just to sort of tell us where it was and then were gone, cause they were low on fuel and they weren’t able to- they were not going to fight the fire at night or anything.
So, I didn’t see a helicopter until Tuesday, maybe Monday morning when we came back, we were –STAR Flight may have come out that Monday, midmorning when I was out there tracking the other fires. And then they were picking some water up out of the river and then dropping it in certain spots where we couldn’t get to, and they were helping us spot it. But that was really important, just to figure out where our fire was, cause when you’re on the ground, you have no idea, other than, you know, I can see houses burning over there or whatever, or smoke.
And so that really helped, but usually I’ve been on fires, little fires, where we have forest service helicopters dropping water, we have STAR Flight dropping water. We have a lot of resources available; the problem on that Sunday and going into that whole situation was is that everybody had something going on. In Bastrop County, in Travis County, in Williamson County, and the resources just weren’t there to allow that. We had the big tanker planes, they were flying in Bastrop. But they weren’t able to fly in our area. And then they were – I mean Bastrop was such a bigger deal. I mean, everybody’s having a tragedy, but that’s hundreds of thousands of acres and thousands of homes, and still burning, and they’re trying to get it under control, or at least trying to start getting it contained. So they were spending more time and resources over there, which meant that we had more limited resources over here. And not that it, we weren’t getting a short shrift or anything, but you know, you just have what you have.
And we had a lot of people coming in from Burnett County, from Blanco County, all the way down from Kerrville. That night while I was there, that first Sunday night – I won’t name the departments cause it kind of made me mad but, I had some guys just show up in a brush truck. And literally, they drove down the road; they hadn’t even been there. I mean they literally drive in, two brush trucks and a chief, and they just literally drive up the highway, turn onto the LCRA right-of-way and just go in there and start fighting the fire. And I’m like: Guys, wait a minute. You don’t even know the terrain, you don’t know who – what are you doing? So we had a lot of people volunteering and coming in, but I’d have to send them back to the command post and then they could get assigned out properly.
‘Cause I had people freelancing, all of a sudden I’ve got three trucks just jumping this fire. They have no idea what they’re doing, they have no idea of the terrain, and they’re just diving in. And that was great, but that’s not what we needed. We needed them to go onto the command post, and they know better. But, and I’m not trying to criticize, but really that’s what we had. We had people coming from Kerrville and Burney and San Antonio and everything else coming to our fire, and most of them, except for this one group, we’re coming in and saying: we’re here, do you need us? And there’s no really way to contact the command post, necessarily.
So, you don’t know what you need and that’s what we’re trying to do through the resource coordinator, but other counties don’t know how we do our system. So we were able to send them to the command post and they were able to go back out and fight fire once we got them in the system.
KUT News: Why couldn’t you communicate via cell phone?
Campbell: Oh, you could. We spent a lot of communicating via cell phone, and via radio. But what I’m saying is is that if I’m in Kerrville, I don’t know what phone number to call to say, “What do you need?” And we were trying to get that information out but just getting it coordinated, because we may or may not need you.
KUT News: Do y’all use Facebook or anything?
Campbell: No, not that I’m aware of.
KUT News: What else would you like to tell us?
Campbell: Well, that’s pretty much it, it was just. It was one of those deals where I thought it was just another day with, we were going to have our little fires and we were hopefully going to get on them quick and put them out quick, and the next thing you know, it’s just everything’s on fire.
KUT News: And now we’re facing the next summer.
Campbell: We are, and the problem we have, and we always seem to have this problem, is that the winter has been unusually wet, so you’ve got all the stuff that died through the drought, that’s now dead fuel, cause green stuff is hard to burn and we’ve had a wet winter so everything kept growing. It’s been overly warm, so now we’re going to have not only all the stuff that died, but now we’ve got all this new growth that we’re going to have to deal with. And if the drought continues, then we’re going to have to deal with all that again, and we’ve just built the fuel load right back up. So that’s going to be a real problem. And we gauge things on the fuel. For example, there’s a thousand hour fuel on a cedar tree is like a thousand hour fuel. It takes a thousand hours for it to dry out, and it’ll take a thousand hours of wetness to bring it back.
Grass is like a one-hour fuel, it’ll take one hour to dry out, and then one hour of rain to – one hour to fill it back up. But the problem is, we’ve drained all those huge fuels, those thousand hour fuels, and even though it’s rained, the drought is not over. And in fact, it’s continuing and it’s – I won’t say it’s as bad, but we’ve got some relief now. But the bottom line is this relief is probably because now we’re going to have all this new growth. But those thousand hour fuels haven’t been recharged, just like the lakes haven’t been recharged, and so they’re just as ready to burn as they ever were. Now we’ve got all this nice new grass and stuff to burn which only takes an hour to dry out.
KUT News: So, got all that kindling.
Campbell: Exactly, the fire has – the fuel load has gone out and re-stoked itself.
KUT News: Ready to go.
Campbell: Ready to go.
KUT News: Well thank you so much, and I really appreciate you coming in to share your story.
Campbell: You’re welcome, thank you.