Well, not on a mountain, more like a flat piece of scrub land between two houses. So let me tell you what happened.
I was heading into San Antonio for the New Media group meet-up (Which, by the way, I was really looking forward to) when I was driving down a little country road that would take me to the interstate. It’s been really dry here and the wind has picked up bad in the last couple of days so when I rounded a corner and saw the side of the road on fire, I was a bit concerned. My initial thought was who the hell was burning in these conditions, not to mention the county wide burn ban that made it illegal.
I broke out my rubber nect (so sue me, I wanted to see) and checked it out. I tried to spot whoever was burning, not that I would have done anything except be disappointed in them. Unfortunately, I didn’t see anybody, but what I could see was the fire getting big in the brush and moving very fast with the wind. It had already burned about a 30 to 40 foot stretch on the side of the road and the way the wind was blowing, it was headed for a couple of houses.
I pulled the car off and ran to where the fire was and started calling, in case someone happenned to be back in the brush where I couldn’t see them. No answer. I called my wife and told her to call the fire dept. (I didn’t call because my cell phone in a San Antonio number, in another county and I didn’t have the Atascosa county fire dept number handy. On the house phone, 911 would work.) Then I went to the gates of houses on each side and they were both padlocked. I started calling out, hoping I could get some attention. No response. I thought about hopping the fence, but this is rural Texas. They often shoot and ask questions later and since the fire still had a bit of distance, I hoped the Fire Dept would get there before I had resort to more drastic measures.
I continued to call out toward both houses, moving back and forth, trying to keep and eye on where the big flames were getting to. A car rolled by and the woman asked me if the fire dept had been called. I said yes but I was worried about the houses on either side. I didn’t know if anyone lived there. She said she had friends just up the road and would ask them. She came by a few minutes later and said that the one house had people living in it and the other, the people were away on vacation.
My wife called and said that they were responding but needed an address. The road is only about a mile to a mile and a half long and I didn’t know the address, but just as I told her this, I noticed a post in front of one of the houses. It was on fire, but I could make out the numbers and told her.
At this point, a man in a truck pulled up and asked what was going on. I told him and he parked his truck and got out to help. We scanned the yards to see if there was any water hoses but we were pretty sure none would reach from either house to where the fire was. He grabbed a flannel shirt and started beating the edges of the fire by the road to try to keep it from spreading. I got an old sheet that was in the trunk of the car and began beating it also. After 5-10 minues of this, we began to hear sirens and horns. Numerous people had passed on the road, but no one else had stopped.
Now’s where it becomes almost comical. A small fire truck pulled up to where we were, rolled down the window and looked confused. It was from Bexar county, which is the next county over.
“What’s the address here?” he asked.
“1159,” I replied.
He got on the radio and jabbered a second then asked me, “Where is 3175?” I pointed and he said “Well, we are supposed to be responding to one on 3175 but…”
With that, he and his partner hopped out of the truck, went to the back, started a little pump and began spraying by the edge of the road. You could tell that while they were setting up, they hadn’t noticed that it was getting big and bad deeper in the woods. There hose was probably about 100 ft long and they had it fully unrolled.
“We need to get closer. Let me pull in that driveway,” he said, and with that, they began rolling the hose back on the truck. I remared that the gate was locked and he asked me if I had the key. I said no, that I had just happened on the scene and he said that at least being up by the gate would allow them to go farther.
So they finished rolling up the hose, pulled the truck up about 25 feet closer then began pulling the hose off again. About this time, a little old man and his wife pulled up in their SUV. “What’s going on?” he asked. I told him then he said, “Would it be better to do that from inside the gate?” I said yes but the gate was locked. “Well I can unlock it for ya.” I was floored for a moment. The brush was on fire heading to the house and he had the key and had to ponder this?
At any rate, he put the car in park in the middle of the road and left it running with his wife sitting and slowly made his way toward the gate. I told the fireman and he rolled his eyes and, once again, they started rolling the hose back on the truck. The guy opened the gate and the firemen jumped in the truck and were ready to go, be he had to get the paper out of the driveway first so he wandered over and picked it up then finally stepped off to the side.
They pulled the truck into position and one fireman began donning a mask and air tank. The other pulled a black face mask down to cover his nose and mouth. He surveyed the situation and called in some more info on the radio.
At this point, the little old man decided that he didn’t like the way they were doing it and started explaining to them that their fire fighting strategy was wrong but they just kinda ignored him. They contained a stretch that had jumped across the yard and was heading for a house and then began working out into the brush. Unfortunately, they reached their hose limit again.
The fire had reached some scrub that was about 10 feet tall and was angling toward the other house now. They couldn’t reach it and needed to drive the truck in further. The lead firemen called the little old man over and asked if it was his property. He apparently said yes because the firemen told them they needed to cut the fence. The little old man scuffled over to the fence to inspect where it would be alright to cut it and then pointed the fireman to it. Why the fireman waited for this, I have no idea, but he then drove the little truck as far in the woods as he could get it. which wasn’t that far.
Luckily, more trucks began to arrive. Bigger trucks, with more water and power. They cut a couple more spots in the fence open to get them through and they began to just plow through brush, putting out small fires and soaking everything in sight as they went. More trucks rolled in from another county and were directed to go around the house and try to catch it from the back. They proceeded, but had to take a big limb off a tree to get through.
They worked feverishly for the next approximately 30 minutes. It then appeared that they got it contained because they stood around talking alot instead of working in the woods. I must say they busted their asses putting out the fire, but to continue. Now mind you, the little old man’s truck is still in the middle of the road, engine running, old woman might be taking a nap. I wasn’t sure. They began to try to talk to the man about the whole situation and he wanted to know what they planned to do about that limb they knocked down. They told him to contact the county and he seemed to get irritated.
The limb was sitting next to the driveway but not blocking it. It seemed he babbled enough that several of the firemen grabbed the limb and atttempted to move it away from the driveway, but to no avail. When I left, he was still upset about it, to the point that the firemen were hooking a chain between the limb and a huge water truck to move it so he wouldn’t be so upset. And yes, his wife was still sitting in the SUV with the motor running in the middle of the road.
NOTE: I took the pictures with my cell phone as the whole thing was winding down, so the quality isn’t great. I thought you would be able to see the SUV in the middle of the road in the first picture, but the angle is wrong and the little red fire truck is blocking the view.