Tag Archives: Possum Kingdom Lake

Sage blooms in Abilene

Sage blooming in Abilene, Texas, September 20, 2011.

This late summer, thundershowers fall infrequently around Abilene, Texas.  Yet, some showers do fall about this west Texas city that lies close to the Brazos River and Buffalo Gap, a niche in the hills that allowed buffalo to migrate from north to central Texas in the nineteenth century, following the shortgrass and bluestem in their casual browsing.

Two days ago as I worked late at my office at Cisco College, I walked by three large sagebrush by the back entry door.  A monarch butterfly floated by, floating and fluttering as if they are playing, and landed on one of the blossoms.  But before I could draw my iPhone from my coat pocket, it flew away and out of my range to snap a picture.  Alas, I was too slow on the draw.  I followed it to a green clump of slender grasses and lost it, despite my intent search.  The monarch had buried itself from my eyes, thinking me a raptor?

Yesterday, following the blooming sagebrush and my failure to photograph the butterfly, it rained about the city, to the north and west particularly.  A rainbow emerged with the sun setting to the east.  And, this morning, the temperatures were the coolest since May, a 61 degrees before sunup.

I think, if sagebrush blooms, can rain be far behind?  And playing monarchs about the purple sage?  Not far behind either.

Three sagebrush with blossoms at the back door of Cisco College, September 22, 2011. The monarch flew and hid in the bushes to the upper right of the photograph.

 

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Pyrocumulus over Possum Kingdom Lake

Pyrocumulus over Possum Kingdom Lake (MSNBC photo, August 2011)

As I drove back to the ranchito yesterday afternoon from Abilene, moving with light traffic on Interstate 20 near Eastland, Texas, I looked northeast and saw towering pyrocumulus clouds. Approximately forty to fifty miles away from where I drove on the highway, I pinpointed the fires at Palo Pinto, Texas, or Possum Kingdom Lake. My ranchito lay far away from the inferno, so my anxiety lessened and I began to think more intently about the precise location. The smoke rose high in the sky, becoming pyrocumulus, rolling and billowing upwards.  It had started at about 1:30 p.m.

When I arrived at the house, I turned on the television and Dallas-Fort Worth stations reported the fires near Possum Kingdom Lake, the southeastern side of the huge lake that dams the Brazos River, the largest river in Texas. In April, fires had erupted about the lake, destroying homes and thousands of acres of trees and grass with attendant wildlife. Once again, Possum Kingdom habitat ignites, the residents flee not having time to salvage photos or documents.

I ruminate that our region suffers a drought, cow tanks dry, underbrush decadent and my primary source of water, the Barton Creek Cooperative, restricts water use with heavy penalties for violators.  In the Possum Kingdom fire zone, summer camps for teenagers and children abound, primary homes and secondary homes stand close to trees that are pruned carefully, the underbrush removed as a fire hazard.  Yet, so, when the spark falls on the dead, crackly grass and brush, natural forces beyond man’s control take precedence and airships with their whap-whap-whap of whirling blades pour water onto flames that send smoke and ashes high into the sky, creating pyrocumulus in the blue skies of Texas.  I think of a line from Full Metal Jacket:  Who is in command here?

The origin of the fire is unknown and as of this morning, August 31, the fire is not contained.

For a morning news report, August 31, 2011, see “Wildfires burning homes in Texas, Oklahoma,” from MSNBC.

______________________________

Notes, corrections and additions:

The quote from the movie, “Who’s in command here?” originally read Apocalypse Now.  The proper citation is from the movie, Full Metal Jacket.

The photograph from MSNBC shows smoke and ash close to the ground and none of the “clouds” are pyrocumulus.  I saw the pyrocumulus while on the interstate highway and I failed to use my iPhone to photograph the phenomenon. 

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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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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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Fire, cloud, rain 18 APR 11

It is not likely that rain will fall out of this cloud, but I can’t predict the weather.  I write and I photograph.

At about 2:00 p.m., CDT, I drove on the south side of Possum Kingdom Lake and photographed the ignition of fires on the west side of SH 16, north of US 180.  Please see my previous post for the photographs.  The smoke clouds began to rise and extend heavenward beyond what I could imagine.

Thirty-minutes ago at 7:00 p.m., from my front pasture, maybe twenty-thirty miles away, I shot the following photograph of cumulus clouds that had arisen from the fire five hours ago over Possum Kingdom.   The photograph is not artsy, but documentary, and signifies a correlation of natural forces that are comprehensible, yet in the narrative of this terrible tragedy cannot be understood.

From the anguish and death of this Possum Kingdom fire, clouds form out of dust and ashes, rising so high they become cumulus.  On other days, they might of yielded rain to parched pastures in Texas and Oklahoma.  The connection between destruction and creation is just confusing right now, but it is how things are.

Out of fire, a cloud, perhaps rain.

This is the photograph without the telescopic lens. I am looking north from our place in north Erath County across the Nowack ranch where they have set up vehicles for evacuation if necessary.

Notes:

Corrections applied to third and fourth paragraphs, breaking up several compound sentences in original publication.  It’s an imperfect world and so are  fourth drafts.

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Winds easing on FHR — Palo Pinto PK East Fire 17 APR 11

Flying Hat Ranch, 7:15 p.m. CDT, looking southward, wind is dying down.

Our back porch at Flying Hat Ranch, early evening after watching for fires today.

Here in Texas we have our disasters and I read today that Raleigh, North Carolina, has been hit hard by tornadoes.  These are events I do not like to have in common.

The winds are still high at 8:30 p.m., but are diminishing on our place in north Erath County, Texas (Flying Hat Ranch or FHR).  As you can see from the photos, we are fortunate that Spring has greened the pastures and trees about our porch and pastures.  North of us, only five miles or so, the country is not as green and in the Cross Timbers area north of Strawn, cedar trees and dry grass give fuel for fire.  I have neither heard nor read how these fires started, but arson is not suspected.  These events tumble out of random, discrete events, and we will probably never know how these fires began.

Here are photos taken this afternoon from the field.  All of these photos are north of Strawn, Texas, or at the command post.  Strawn is ten miles northwest of our place.

The order to evacuate Strawn is based on systematic criteria by the Texas Forest Service, Department of Public Safety and other state offices.  Strawn is not a ghost town as the result of the order, but villagers are quite cautious, standing in the yards and making their decisions to stay or leave.  I saw no panic or flight of citizens.  There were several dozens of horse trailers pulling horses going out of town along Davidson Cemetery Road.

With a click of your mouse, you may enlarge these photos.

North of Strawn on SH 16, six miles, looking west towards Ranger Hill area.

Bulldozers in field, cutting fire lanes along ranch pastures.

Cedar trees bursting in flame along SH 16.

Panoramic picture of fires west and northwest of Strawn.

Looking southward towards Strawn on SH 16.

North of Strawn, on Robinson Road. Fence posts burned from fire two days ago.

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North of Strawn, Texas (Palo Pinto County, PK East Fire) 17 APR 11

Field report and photo by iPhone (kind of slow to thumb a post).

Smoke and hotspots.  Looking south on SH 16 in the direction of Strawn.

Palo Pinto County, PK East Fire – The entire city of Strawn (pop. 764) and portions of Palo Pinto County, described as areas west of Highway 16 and south of Possum Kingdom Lake, are being evacuated. An evacuation order has been given for the Peninsula on Possum Kingdom Lake. The Peninsula has approximately 300 homes and a campground. Fire is estimated at 1,000 acres.

20110417-055438.jpg

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Red flag flying with good horse Star 17 APR 11

This Sunday is another day of remaining alert for smoke in west and central Texas.  Fire Weather Warnings have been issued.  Red flags are flying.

Before we focus at noon until late evening on possible wildfires, errands are run and Star, our paint gelding is fed.

Star is out of isolation for rabies since Friday.  Now, after two weeks of isolation, he can once again nuzzle his horse neighbors next door and set his huge neck upon my shoulder.  Here is a photo of Star taken last week.

Star Bars Moore APHA 808164, loafing in arena pasture under mesquites.

So that is some of the good news here on Flying Hat Ranch or “Ranchito” as Donald Worcester, a deceased friend of mine, used to call his 142 acres near Fort Worth.

Unfortunately, later today we have to work with the following forecast from the National Weather Service:

URGENT – FIRE WEATHER MESSAGE…UPDATED NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE FORT WORTH TX 436 AM CDT SUN APR 17 2011 TXZ091-092-100gt;103-115gt;119-129gt;134-141gt;147-156gt;162-174-175-171800- /O.CON.KFWD.FW.W.0014.110417T1700Z-110418T0100Z/ MONTAGUE-COOKE-YOUNG-JACK-WISE-DENTON-STEPHENS-PALO PINTO-PARKER- TARRANT-DALLAS-EASTLAND-ERATH-HOOD-SOMERVELL-JOHNSON-ELLIS- COMANCHE-MILLS-HAMILTON-BOSQUE-HILL-NAVARRO-FREESTONE-LAMPASAS- CORYELL-BELL-MCLENNAN-FALLS-LIMESTONE-LEON-MILAM-ROBERTSON- 436 AM CDT SUN APR 17 2011 …RED FLAG WARNING REMAINS IN EFFECT FROM NOON TODAY TO 8 PM CDT THIS EVENING… A LOW PRESSURE SYSTEM IS EXPECTED TO DEEPEN ACROSS THE TEXAS AND OKLAHOMA PANHANDLES LATER TODAY RESULTING IN GUSTY SOUTHERLY WINDS. SOUTHERLY WINDS 15 TO 25 MPH WITH GUSTS TO 35 MPH CAN BE EXPECTED ALONG WITH HUMIDITY VALUES AROUND 20 PERCENT. THE COMBINATION OF GUSTY WINDS…LOW HUMIDITY…AND DRY FUELS WILL LEAD TO DANGEROUS FIRE WEATHER CONDITIONS THROUGH EARLY EVENING. PRECAUTIONARY/PREPAREDNESS ACTIONS… A RED FLAG WARNING MEANS THAT EXTREME FIRE WEATHER CONDITIONS ARE EITHER OCCURRING NOW…OR WILL SHORTLY. A COMBINATION OF STRONG WINDS…LOW RELATIVE HUMIDITY…AND DRY VEGETATION WILL CREATE EXPLOSIVE FIRE GROWTH POTENTIAL. AVOID ALL OUTSIDE BURNING AND WELDING TODAY. DO NOT TOSS LIT CIGARETTE BUTTS OUTSIDE. REPORT WILD FIRES TO THE NEAREST FIRE DEPARTMENT OR LAW ENFORCEMENT OFFICE.
I obtain this weather warning when I click on our weather service and a red banner streaks alarmingly across the top of the page.  Catches your attention real fast!  There’s a red flag flying today with our good horse, Star.  All will be well and if not, we’ll manage with help of a Star.

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