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Fire on the mountain: 15,000 acres scorched by blaze

June 21, 2011

A wall of flames advances in the South Mountain area Monday afternoon. More than 15,000 acres have been consumed by the blaze, which firefighters continued to battle today. (HERALD photo by Steve Reagan/aerial coverage courtesy of Bob Price)

A pair of wildfires destroyed more than 15,000 acres of land and at least two homes Monday, as firefighters prepare for even more devastation today.

The first fire was reported early Monday afternoon near Cauble Road in the southwest portion of the county, according to Howard County Volunteer Fire Department Chief Tommy Sullivan.

“The Cauble Road fire destroyed about 400 acres,” Sullivan said. “We were really lucky with that one because we were able to stop it right at the roadway. If it had jumped across, we would be talking about a lot more acres of land than we are now.”

Sullivan said the Cauble Road fire was caused by a electrical power line failure which sparked off fires which were driven east through the dangerously draw brush land west of the McMahon-Wrinkle Airpark.

Before firefighters could get the fire fully contained, however, Sullivan said the second fire — identified as the Boykin Road fire, which is where it is believed to have started — forced him to split his forces.

“We had to work both fires at the same time for a period,” Sullivan said. “The Boykin Road fire was also caused by an electrical power line failure.”

Sullivan said the Boykin Road fire, which was still burning Tuesday morning, has already destroyed an estimated 15,000 acres, spreading from its origin north of Big Spring along the ridge of South Mountain.

“We've lost two homes to the fire, both of which were active residences,” Sullivan said. “It could have been much worse, however. The Boykin Road fire has already threatened more than 50 homes, and I have to say it's the grit and hard work of these firefighters which has kept those homes from being lost, as well.”

Sullivan said several injuries have resulted from battling the blazes, but all of them have been minor.

“We've had some firefighters treated for first-degree burns on their ears and noses,” he said. “However, we've been really lucky not to have any serious injuries.”

While the pair of fires Monday have certainly taken a toll on the landscape, they are also taking a toll on firefighters and their equipment, Sullivan said.

“It's been about 60 hours since I've slept, and the same for many of the firefighters who are still out there working right now,” a weary Sullivan said. “Our equipment is really taking a beating, as well. We've had a couple of pumps blow up on us, and we've beaten a lot of our tires to death chasing this fire on the ridge of South Mountain.

“Most of our pumps are designed to work for 20 hours then have their oil changed out. Unfortunately, with these fires popping up one right after another, there's just no way to keep to that 20-hour schedule. It's doing a lot of damage to our equipment.”

Luckily for firefighters with both the Howard County Volunteer Fire Department and Big Spring Fire Department, they have had plenty of assistance from nearby cities and counties.

“We have firefighters and equipment from Midland, Odessa, Dawson County, Martin County, Glasscock, Mitchell and Greenwood,” Sullivan said. “The Forest Service and their task force are also helping. We're supposed to have some air drops this morning, we're just waiting for them to get here.”

While the Boykin Road fire — which has spread to the nearby mountain and several other locations — has died down some since Monday evening, Sullivan said the battle against it is far from over.

“It's still burning, and when the wind starts picking back up this afternoon the race will be on once again,” Sullivan said.

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