Shining a spotlight on wildfires and the question of what happens next is a complex subject.
We may assume that when a wildfire occurs, we make a call for help and the rest of the story is just that. While viewing catastrophic footage of rising walls of red and orange arches, the flames seem so distant when they’re on another’s land or in a Texas locale far away.
During the recent 82nd legislative session, there were the daily “fire reports” given by legislators from the front microphone. The wildfires in the Bastrop area of Central Texas have touched many in our area as family and friends relate the stories of how their loved ones are coping.
My personal perspective changed last Sunday, when a real and not so distant danger presented less than a mile from the front door of our ranch house in south Taylor County.
In the clear darkness of the late-night sky stood the statuesque energy machines that dot that region of our county. Having several wind turbines on our property as lease guests, the flashing red dots required for aviation safety were peripheral to the stark silhouette of the glowing flames. The tower of the structure was robed in fire just below the nacelle, or what I call the “nerve center.” The nacelle itself was glowing and emitting the fireballs as cascading trails to the ground below. Having had another yet dissimilar ranch fire in 2009, an immediate call was placed to the area volunteer fire department.
In what seemed like only 10 minutes, the trucks and fire personnel began arriving. Fully aware that we may have been watching what was unusual in the parlance of fires, I observed closely. The trucks arriving from the Elm Creek, View and Buffalo Gap volunteer departments were a wide array of configurations, as is often the case with volunteer units. The personnel were professional, addressing the demands of the fire and alert to changing conditions that would prompt action.
Many seemed to be transfixed by the catapulting fiery spheres as they landed and added to what then became the second fire. I learned quickly that there would not be an attempt to extinguish the fire on the turbine level, although measures were taken to avoid any possible encounter with the structure should it appear unstable in any way. The second fire was a dual focus as it expanded on the ground devouring dry grass and approaching juniper cedars.
As my husband and I pondered how and why a fire like this would happen, we soon realized it was after midnight and decided we needed to return to Abilene. In communicating with the commander on the ground, we were told they would stay until all evidence of fire in the two venues were no longer visible.Additionally, trenches would need to be completed by volunteers using a bulldozer to provide for fire-inhibiting perimeters. As landowners, we felt confident to return home. The volunteers were there into the wee morning hours and would be going to their paying jobs immediately on the heels of their service.
Upon reflection, there are several clear and convincing knowns in this recent experience but many more unknowns. Volunteer firefighters are tasked with protecting lives, land and livestock in a rural fire arena. They are tasked with dealing with land fires that are also within the location of certain energy producing machines.
Volunteer firefighters serve the public without salary. There is a delicate balance between protecting and serving on a volunteer basis and the demands of their “paying job.” These individuals are first responders in the truest sense.
The unknowns in this area continue to grow. Is anyone tracking the incidence of wind turbine fires in the state of Texas? Do the firefighters have knowledge of the materials burning from these machines to allow for protection and strategy? How are the resources utilized in combating these fires replenished or reimbursed?In conversation with officials at the Texas Forest Service and State Fire Marshal’s Office, they were unable to confirm that data related to wind turbine fires is available at this time, however they are looking into this further at my request. I am committed to continually seeking these answers.
Susan King represents District 71 in the Texas House of Representatives and is a practicing surgical nurse.
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