High-risk fire conditions pose a threat across the South Plains, and local first responders are preparing their crews for potential danger.
“Last I heard from the National Weather Service (regarding Monday) was 20 to 30 mile per hour wind– maybe 40– and I saw one model which showed gusts up to 60 miles per hour,” said Levelland firefighter Jake Madewell on Sunday. “That’s definitely the right conditions for a grass fire.”
EverythingLubbock.com meteorologist Kevan Smith confirmed that Madewell’s interpretations of the NWS models are correct. A fire weather watch and a high wind watch remain in effect for the South Plains on Monday.
Madewell explained that the rain in 2015 on the South Plains helped plenty of grass to grow, but that grass has now become dangerously dry. Around Levelland, the local farms and surrounding plains are full of that dry grass, so Madewell and his colleagues are trying to plan ahead.
“We’ve been starting to get fire weather warnings the last few days,” Madewell explained.”An example from yesterday: that fire we responded to with in Smyer.”
Just after 10 p.m. Saturday the Levelland Fire Department was called to provide mutual aid to the Smyer Fire Deparment who was responding to a blaze outside of Smyer near the intersection of El Paso Rd. and Sunrise Ln. Madewell, who responded to that fire estimated that it burned 100 acres. Even with six trucks, two fire departments, and around ten thousand gallons of water, it took over three hours to stop the fire. Smyer Fire Department reported Sunday they were not aware of the cause of the fire or the specific location where it originated.
But South Plains firefighters know that something similar could happen again. So the Levellend Fire Department spent the day on Sunday making sure their staff, equipment, and vehicles were fully prepared.
“We check our trucks everyday, but with the heightened conditions, we are focusing more on the big trucks–our grass trucks–making sure that everything is topped off,” explained Lance Edwards, Captain of the Levelland Fire Department. “We had a call just a few minutes ago, one of the things [we discussed] that’s important is we’re topping [the trucks] off with fuel, making sure we’re not low at all in case we need to stay out for a very long time.”
Conditions in a grassfire can be dangerous and grueling for firefighters, so Levelland EMS is standing by to support those firefighters.
“Our EMS service is making sure all our equipment is ready to provide medical support for our fire departments in Levelland and Hockley County” said Jeff Pharis, paramedic for Levelland EMS.
“[Assistance] for firefighters is on the priority list and especially for a long-term grass fire, we may have to come out provide medical support, make sure the fire fighters stay hydrated with water, monitor vital signs make sure they get enough rest before they go back into the field,” Pharis added.
EMS in Levelland also plan to monitor public safety in areas where fires spring up, their biggest concern is preventing smoke inhalation.
Both Levelland EMS and Fire agree, the public also has a role in fighting these fires too: acting responsibly to prevent unnecessary fire danger.
“Be aware [Monday] don’t even do out door cooking and burning, and stay aware of possible fires in the area, and do your part and make sure you’re decreasing the chance of a fire,” Pharis advised.