Monthly Archives: April 2011

Saturday morning chores

Path in the Grove, Spring 2011.

It is Saturday morning and chores must be done.

I had rather walk the path in the Grove as photographed above, but duty calls.

To wit:  establish an insecticide ring about the ranch house that is minimal to reduce or eliminate the large wood ants scouting out the kitchen.

Go to Gordon Hardware Store six-miles away and purchase hardware for gates and trellis.

Collect trash along County Road 114.

Fetch Shiner Bock beer from barn refrigerator.  Pour half for me, half-a-bottle for Star, the paint gelding.  I don’t know about me, but Star deserves it having made it through isolation and the smoke from the fires.

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Speed and poppies

Red poppy field at Wildseed Farm, Fredericksburg, Texas, April 2011.

This is a cultivated field of red poppies at the Wildseed Farms, Fredericksburg, Texas.  The farm planted about one acre of poppies.  In addition, several rows of lavender, gardens of roses and other plants form a most beautiful farm east of Fredericksburg.

The wildfires lifted and rains were predicted to fall on the ranch as I drove to Fredericksburg a few days ago.  The town thrived on German immigrants who came to America frustrated by the lack of progressive reform in Germany following the Revolutions of 1848 in Europe.  The townspeople, stockmen and farmers concluded lasting peace treaties with the Comanche and lived through Civil War conflict to establish a successful enclave of farming and stocktending in central Texas that endures today.

In Fredericksburg the main street broadens into four lanes of slow traffic and angled parking on both sides of the street like the large thoroughfares in Fort Collins, Colorado, or the wide boulevards of Paris.  As a boy, I always enjoyed the German bakeries in Fredericksburg and still find them sweet-scented and delicious.

Sunday houses abound in the town for farmers and their families who used to come in for the weekend to shop and attend church.  They are small, cottage-like dwellings.  Many appear to be a hundred-years-old, cisterns and fences placed neatly, but now leaning in age, about the houses.  The automobile with paved roads terminated Sunday-house lodging.  As a sign of the times, the farmer and stockman could speed to church or market and return within a day.

As I stood in the gardens of Wildseed Farms I looked out on the highway and saw cars and trucks speeding by the farm, by the poppies and the lavender.  I know that commerce and trade in this day and age must have the machine to carry the goods, but much is lost and never regained when a field of poppies goes unnoticed on bright Spring day.  I should like to think that the tanker trucks and minivans have drivers and passengers that at least glance, perchance slow, at the beauty of the countryside and make a promise to stop the next time and fill their senses with all that nature has to offer.  And, frankly, nature is abundant in gifts even if we don’t slow down.

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Field note — all clear at Flying Hat

About our place, rain has fallen the last two days. For us the fire danger is gone.

Storms knocked out our internet provider.

This is a text message via wireless. Our IP does have a dialup number as backup and I will use it if necessary.

Yucca blossoms are on the way. A roadrunner darted across the Well House Corral. Queen Ann’s Lace erupts overnight. The pond is up.

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The clarity of wildfire Possum Kingdom 22 APR 11

Firefighters loading bulldozer for the run to Palo Pinto, Texas, when it was ordered evacuated.

I have resided mostly in Texas all of my life and when young I do not remember wildfire. For some reason pastures and forests in Texas have changed, and within the last ten years in south Palo Pinto County and north Erath County, fires have erupted and destroyed trees, wildlife, livestock, pastures, firemen and innocents.

By my count, around Strawn, Mingus and Gordon, Texas, three large wildfire outbreaks have occurred within the last ten years. On two occasions, I have hitched trailers to move horses off of our ranch and have prepared checklists for evacuation. At night, the mountainsides appear to have torches marching down to our pastures to kill and maim the living. The next morning, trees smolder on the slopes, the torches of the night before.

Fire brings a clarity to decision-making: there’s no ambiguity about whether to do one chore or another, read one book or the other or how to spend one’s day at work or on the ranch. You don’t worry about combing your hair or washing your face.

You fight the fire. You wait. Or, you evacuate. Forget muddling around and killing time for your home, livestock or grassland may not exist this time tomorrow. And, neither may wildlife you have observed. Only fishes in cow tanks will make it through the day if they are not sucked up by helicopters filling their water tanks.

Within this last week, the Possum Kingdom Complex Fire came within seven miles of our place before the night fell and winds died. Then the next day, the winds shifted and carried the flames northward. A shift in wind the day after that and Palo Pinto was ordered to evacuate, the town where we have our house insurance and our branch bank.

The clarity of wildfire is the clarity of life and death. Today you are here, but tomorrow all you possess and cherish may be gone. Non-existence may be sooner rather than later. That much is clear.

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Filed under Life Out of Balance, Wildfire

Volunteer Fire Departments — Possum Kingdom Complex Fire 21 APR 11

Please note that if you wish to add your VFD to this list or give other pertinent information, please e-mail me at matthewsranch@msn.com and I will append your information to this list.  I mean no offense if you are not on this list, so assist me in compiling this information.  Thanks — Jack Matthews.

I have compiled a list of a number of volunteer fire departments that I have seen in the field fighting the Possum Kingdom Complex Fire on the southern, middle and western sides of the fire lines.  Contact the VFD by telephone for information on giving cash donations or other commodities.  Please note that other VFDs have worked in the fire zones that I do not list here.  I have seen Fort Worth, Bedford, Dallas, Graham, Coleman, Cunningham and other companies in the area.

These are the VFDs closest to my area in southern Palo Pinto-northern Erath Counties of Texas.

LONE CAMP VFD

Info/Chief (Charles Sims): (940) 329-8350
P.O. Box 485
Palo Pinto, TX 76484

Lone Camp VFD website
* * *

PALO PINTO VFD

PO Box 296
Palo Pinto, TX 76484
Telephone: (940) 659-3900

* * *

SANTO VFD (includes BRAZOS VFD)

201 E Rusk ST
Santo, TX
Telephone: 940-769-2060

* * *

GORDON VFD

111 E Crockett ST
Gordon, TX
Telephone: 254-693-5312
Fax: 254-693-5859

* * *

POSSUM KINGDOM VFD (West Side)

4809 Green Acres RD
Graham, TX
Telephone: (940) 549-8231
Fax: (940) 549-8265

* * *

MINERAL WELLS VFD

212 S Oak AVE
Mineral Wells, TX
Telephone: 940-328-7741
Fax: 940-328-7731

* * *

STRAWN VFD

610 Grant AVE
Strawn, TX 76475
Telephone: 254-672-5333

* * *

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68 degrees with light wind — Palo Pinto County South 20 APR 11

Please link and refer to the Texas Forest Service updates, Department of Public Safety and county law enforcement officials for up-to-date information.  I am unable to enter the restricted areas and the official pronouncements have the final say in operational policies during these wildfire events.  That being said, I stand by my field observations as described herein.

At about noon, I drove to Caddo by way of SH 717 from Ranger, turned east and drove US 180 to Palo Pinto, and then back home.

The winds blew light, not brazen as they have the last few days, and the temperatures never climbed above 70 degrees for the two hours I traveled along the southern edge of the Possum Kingdom Complex Fire.  The skies are overcast and early this morning a mist fell briefly.  As I drove the F-250 near the Macedonia Cemetery on SH 717, the temperature dipped to 64 degrees.  I saw one plume of smoke west of SH 717, and then as I sped past Caddo and down the Palo Pinto Mountains towards Palo Pinto, the hot spots I have seen in the last few days were calm.

Sadly, that was not the case farther east.  I saw smoke north of US 180 east of Possum Kingdom Lake, and the Highway Patrol blockaded SH 4 out of Palo Pinto towards Graford and SH 16.  I saw power company trucks carrying new poles to replace those that had been burned.

I read that the firefighters still labor at fire lines near Graford and Possum Kingdom East.  Despite overcast skies and lower temperatures, the fight continues.  See the Texas Forest Service updates on the right sidebar of the blog.  Click on their website for additional information.

From US 180, going south on SH 919, back to the ranch, all appeared clear of wildfire and smoke plumes.  Gordon, Texas, schools were open and the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway construction and repair crews were assembling machines and materials adjacent to the Gordon Volunteer Fire Department and Emergency Responders.  Stowe Ford Company displayed their vehicles on their lots, a King Ranch F-250 looked especially nice.  The Stowe Ford Company in Gordon is the second oldest Ford dealership in Texas.

* * *

My wife teaches at Texas Wesleyan University in Fort Worth, Texas, and the University sent an e-mail message yesterday, April 19, 2011, to the faculty.  The Methodist Church at Possum Kingdom Lake burned and the Methodist Conference has undertaken relief efforts to the area for all inhabitants, Methodist or not.  If you are thinking about donations for the Possum Kingdom Lake Complex Fire relief, I quote the e-mail below.  I have seen the Red Cross and Salvation Army stations set up at Strawn, Gordon and Palo Pinto.  They seem to be moving with the activity and need, so there also would be an opportunity to help.

The e-mail message I quote:

More than 1,000 firefighters are involved with the situation, 21 homes are reported burned as well as Cedar Springs United Methodist Church. Rev. Jim Senkel, pastor at Cedar Springs, reports the church has burned to the ground. People are still not permitted into the burn area, but you can help in this situation. The Weatherford, Brownwood and Fort Worth districts have been asked to supply 1,500 health kits to help the firefighters and those displaced from their homes. Health kit items include:

·         1 hand towel 15” x 25” to 17”x 27” kitchen (cleaning and microfiber towels are not acceptable)

·         1 washcloth

·         1 comb (comb must be sturdy and at least 8” long/no pocket combs or picks/rattail combs and combs without handles are acceptable)

·         1 metal nail file or clipper (no emery boards or toenail clippers)

·         1 bath size soap (3 oz. and larger sizes only in original packaging/all brands are acceptable)

·         1 toothbrush (adult size only/do not remove from original packaging)

·         6 adhesive bandages (¾” to 1“ size common household sizes)

·         One tube of toothpaste

·         1 plastic bag (one gallon size – sealable bags only to hold all the items)

We are asking everyone to help out with all of the other needs. Priority 1 and 2 list items are needed IMMEDIATELY:

1.  Firefighters & Police: Water, Gatorade, chapstick, non-perishable food items, chips, cheese & crackers, Wet Wipes, hand sanitizer, aloe vera lotion, sunscreen

2.  Victims: Immediate needs are personal items like toothbrushes, toothpaste, deodorant, shampoo, Wet Wipes, hand sanitizer, aloe vera lotion, sunscreen

3.  Victims: Long-term needs are household items.

If you have any questions please feel free to contact the Weatherford District office at 1-888-423-5378 or Laraine Waughtal, Conference Disaster Response Coordinator, at 254-595-1503.

Susan Briles

Mission Ministries

Central Texas Conference

464 Bailey Avenue

Fort Worth TX 76107

817/877-5222

800/460-8622

817/338-4541 fax

susan@ctcumc.org

20 APR 11 Map of region traveled today. SH 717 is far west, north of Ranger to Caddo.

Notes:

Correction: map caption changed. Distance legend should be 0.0 to 6.0 miles. SH 717 location identified.

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Possum Kingdom area map and weather lifts 20 APR 11

To give you an idea of the extent of the Possum Kingdom Complex Fire, here is a map with pertinent marks.  The distance legend is at the bottom as well as the location of our place — “Matthews (Flying Hat).”  The green lines indicate the field observations I have made the last few days — going north from Flying Hat on SH 108, SH 919 to US 180, then east and west to the Stephens County line, then southward along SH 16 to Strawn.

Wildfires were observed yesterday, NORTH of US 180 and WEST of SH 16 to Strawn — thirty-six miles of the sub-route.  Many of those were fire spots that were lessening in intensity.

The temperature this morning at the Matthews Place is 65 deg., humidity is 20 percent.  In looking at the National Weather forecast, there were NO Red Flag Warnings for today!

I will be writing a post later today.  With a click of your mouse, you may enlarge the map for obligatory detail.

Matthews Place north to Possum Kingdom Lake (The Roads of Texas map set, 1988).

Wildfire near Strawn, Texas (photo by Tom Pennington, New York Times, April 20, 2011).

Notes:

Corrections: italics used to emphasize and word added that these were observations made yesterday. Large caps used to indicate NORTH and WEST in locations.

Sentence added that some hot spots were lessening in intensity yesterday.

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Severe water restrictions and Palo Pinto evacuation order 19 APR 11

I drove thirty-six miles this afternoon along SH 919, US 180, SH 16 and there was fire and smoke, large plumes of newly-erupting fires and smoldering cedar trees emitting smoke across the highway like a fog.  I wish it was a fog.  Ashes fell out of the sky, the wind blew steadily from the north, a welcome change of sorts that turned serious for Palo Pinto, Texas.  Thirty-six miles I drove and saw this fearful landscape and that was only the southern perimeter of the Possum Kingdom-Palo Pinto Complex Fire.  Some of these areas are still burning from days ago.  Fire crews with red lights turning appeared all along the highway.  Game wardens entered ranches to warn inhabitants.  Farmers and ranchers unlatched their gates along the route to Palo Pinto to allow crews to enter.  TV crews and their satellite vans were set up — NBC, CBS, ABC and others.

Everywhere I looked on the thirty-six mile southern perimeter there were plumes of smoke and fire like miniature volcanoes in the gullies and along the hillsides.  I have traveled the same circuit for several days and the smoke still rises about the countryside.

I came home and found messages from our Co-op water company.

* * *

Our water Co-op, Barton Creek Water Cooperative, left two urgent messages one hour ago to stop using water except at a minimum.  The Possum Kingdom Fire Complex is currently draining the Gordon Water Supply Cooperative and they have terminated water connections for us on Barton Creek Water Cooperative.  We are ordered to restrict or terminate usage and haul water for our livestock.  We are to be conservative in usage at the very most.  Power poles have been destroyed in the fire and the electric company has cut off power to the Gordon Water Supply pumps.  Gordon is six miles north of us.

The outlook is grim if our area does get any rain and more water restrictions may occur.

Here on our place we have a large stock pond that is down in elevation, but has plenty of water for Star and other livestock.  I have offered to place several horses and cattle on our place since the stock tank is large.  I have a small well, but the water is not potable for animals and humans, but we may use it to water plants.

We have filled up our two bathtubs and collected water in pitchers, jars and crock pots.

The Co-op has just called — 8:55 p.m. — and said that the water restrictions will probably be temporary, but again stated to be conservative.

* * *

Late this afternoon, Palo Pinto, a town north of us some twenty-five miles, has been ordered to evacuate since the winds have shifted from the north.  A large jail is being emptied and prisoners transferred to other units.  The fire jumped the Brazos River and the fire crews have concentrated at Palo Pinto, the county seat of Palo Pinto County.

Before the cold front came through in late afternoon, my thermometer registered a high of 109 deg., but settled at 103 deg. for a couple of hours with a humidity at nine percent.

The winds have died down after dark and we are preparing for bed.  Weather forecasts tell that rain may fall tomorrow night — scattered showers, but we’ll take it.

* * *

Here are some photographs I took this afternoon at the SH 16 and US 180 intersections and a few other places as captioned.  With a click of your mouse you may enlarge and find the obligatory detail in these matters.

Sunset and smoke over Strawn, Texas

Dead broomweed from last season that is tinder for a spark. This field is on the road to Palo Pinto, Texas, along US 180.

A round-up of cattle in holding pen for transfer in case fire comes, on SH 16, north of Strawn.

Crews and trucks assembling for the dash to Palo Pinto, Texas. This is at the intersection of SH 16 and US 180. Possum Kingdom is eight miles away in the background.

Possum Kingdom Complex Fire, southside of lake.

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Sound of wind and bird in live oaks near Mingus, Texas

Wind sounds, April 19, 2011, on Flying Hat Ranchito beneath evergreen live oaks.  Turn up your volume to hear bird calls and wind through live oaks.  A bit of a respite from the last few days.  The wind increases in volume.  Shadows of leaves on the ground.

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Filed under Flying Hat Ranch, Sounds

Local news links to Possum Kingdom Complex fire in Texas 19 APR 11

Lone Camp Volunteer Department Fire truck, US Forest Service auxillary, at idle north of Strawn, Texas, after fighting SH 16 west fires.

The following local news links have detail about the Possum Kingdom Complex fire:

http://www.nbcdfw.com/news/local/Wildfires-Burn-700000-Acres-Federal-Help-Sought-120070209.html — NBC5i in Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas.

http://www.star-telegram.com/2011/04/18/3009662/20-more-homes-burn-at-possum-kingdom.html — Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

* * *

Our county, Erath, and neighboring counties are under a Red Flag Extreme Fire Weather alert for today.  Risks are very high until late afternoon early evening when a cold front will move through the area.  Shifting winds may be a problem.  Temperatures may reach 102 deg.  Winds, however, should not be as high as they have been in the last few days, say, 15-20 m.p.h.

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