Firefighters still attacking Jasper Co. blaze

JASPER COUNTY, TX (KTRE) - The Sam Rayburn Dam serves as the command post area for the Power Line Fire. Firefighters are working around the clock to contain the 4,000 acre fire located about a mile south of the dam.

The Texas Forest Service, with the aid of Department of Public Safety, had closed highway 255, but it was open Monday morning.

That's when on three hours sleep, Jasper County Sheriff Mitchell Newman traveled the county roads south of the dam. "A lot of people missed father's day yesterday," he commented before starting out.

About 150 emergency workers are on the fire that broke out Saturday afternoon around two. Local departments from nearby cities, including Lufkin, are helping out. Many others come from out of state.

Newman's drive takes him up County Road 82, off of Highway 63. Prime timber, some owned by Campbell Timber, is charred by the fifty foot flames. Black soot remains on the trunks from the night before.

A stop is made where the fire began. Gun shells are found where suspects were target shooting. Shots taken at propane tanks may have sparked the fire.

"We had a witness see them set up the targets," said Newman. "It may have been an accident, but they should have let us know what happened. We're gonna get 'em. We'll follow 'em."

If they had just called for help instead of running it would have saved property and danger to firefighters. "All I know is they left a cooler full of cold Miller Lite beer," Newman said.

Overhead choppers fly back and forth. They dip a large bucket into Sam Rayburn Reservoir, swooping up as much as 1200 gallons of water to drop on hot spots. The biggest chopper is called off for another fire elsewhere, leaving only two. Another from Amarillo is expected.

They come too late to save eight hunting camps at Hog Creek Hunting Club. "It's a lot better than losing some body's home. We didn't lose a life, that's the main thing," said Newman as he walked around the burned down make shift cabins.

On Saturday, nearby homes were evacuated, but about 50 residents are back in their houses tonight. The threat against Rayburn Country and Forest Hills was less severe on Monday, but voluntary evacuations are still in place.

Twin Dykes and Ebenezer campgrounds were evacuated. About 50 campers were sent on their way. The camping area will remain closed until further notice.

Firefighter's biggest challenge is this stiff wind that comes out of the south all day long and sometimes into the night.

"It really puts a hamper on us to get into the fire because the fires move fast," said Jasper Deputy Chief Robert Treadway.

Another concern is keeping the power line, for which the fire is named cool. Too much heat could mean Newton County residents could lose electricity.

"When the fire intensity gets to a certain point under those transmission lines, it causes the system to shut down," explained Bart Dearborn, with the Corps of Engineer.

Another concern is a bulldozer that became grounded on a gas pipeline. "We would have lost lives if it had ruptured that pipe," said Newman. "The gas company warned dozer operators about the danger of attempting to cross the line."

Orders have been given not to let anyone near the abandoned dozer. The pipeline pressure was reduced some. Attempts are being made to shut it down to make it safe enough for equipment to lift the dozer off the line.

The goal is to keep the fire west of subdivisions and move it south to Sam Rayburn Reservoir, probably the best defense against it spreading even farther.

A second fire in Jasper County, the Cowboy Fire, was considered 100 percent contained Sunday night, Newman said. It is burning in a pine plantation and was rekindled from a fire earlier this month.

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