The Fort Hood Fire Department is gearing up for what could be a busy fire season, said Chief Billy Rhoads. Already this year, more than 160 acres have burned.
A late growing season means this year there is more “fuel” in the wildland areas of Fort Hood’s training ranges. Fuel can be scrub, brush and cedar trees, much of which is dead and dry from the freezes earlier this year, Rhoads said. Predictive fire services are heeding similar warnings, he added.
“We didn’t have much of a fire season last year,” he said. “That produces more fire load for this year.”
On March 18, two wildfires sprung up and were fueled by dry conditions and low humidity burning 167 acres. The Lone Star tank range at North Fort Hood sparked from a unit firing ordnance. A second fire near Farm-to-Market 116 was caused by a unit conducting maneuver training using pyrotechnics such as smoke grenades or flash bangs.
“Low humidity propagates the spread of the fire faster,” he said, referencing the conditions that day. High winds clocked up to 38 miles per hour also contributed.
“It’s going to spread quick when grass and stuff is as dead as it is from the freezes we had,” he said. “There were a multitude of factors.”
It took about two days for the fires to be 100 percent contained.
“We anticipate it being busier than last year, but not as busy as 2011,” Rhoads said.
That year more than 7,000 acres burned in what is called the “impact area,” which contains unexploded ordnance.
The potential to encounter munitions is always on the minds of Fort Hood firefighters.
“Our biggest concern is not allowing firefighters to enter (the impact) area,” Rhoads said. ”No grass fire worth a person’s life.”
To balance military training — which must continue even in dry conditions — with safety, the department issues color-coded alerts and trains soldiers to put out small fires on their own.
Green means there is no significant fire threat and soldiers are free to shoot any munitions. Amber warns things are getting dry. Red is the highest alert and only allows units to use incendiary or pyrotechnics. The fire alert went to red after the fires last month, but Rhoads said recent rains could change that.
“We don’t like to stay in red ... because we want our soldiers to be trained to be prepped to go to war,” he said.
Firefighters will have a new brush truck in their arsenal this summer to help in areas where wildland and urban areas interface.
“We constantly train heavy on the wildland mission,” Rhoads said.
People can help prevent fires by paying attention to how dry conditions are.
“Even though you may think the fuels are wet, they may not be that wet,” he said. “When the grass is dead, it’s not going to absorb the moisture. It is deceiving.”
Rose L. Thayer is the military editor for the Killeen Daily Herald. She joined the paper in February 2011 as a health and military reporter. View her complete profile Here. You can contact Rose L. Thayer at firstname.lastname@example.org or (254) 501-7463. Follow her on Twitter at KDHmilitary.