SPECIAL REPORT: Cherokee Co. residents recovering from Alto fire

Cherokee Co. Judge Chris Davis says the flames were close to home
Cherokee Co. Judge Chris Davis says the flames were close to home

CHEROKEE COUNTY, TX (KTRE) - It's biggest fire was in the Alto area. A 1,700 acre woods fire started with a car fire. Firefighters call it 'The Highway 294' fire.

"I was within probably a quarter of a mile of that fire when it started. I was at a family member's house having Sunday lunch," said Chris Davis, Cherokee County Judge.

Davis will now remember the night of 9/11 for a loss close to home.

Near Alto he was on a fly over to see damage caused by a fire from the week before, when something else caught his attention.

"The minute we were airborne, we were over the next fire, the fire right there by the house," Davis said.

That's when Davis began to watch his childhood stomping grounds go up in flames.

"It was beyond scary. I mean it was, it gave you a sick feeling inside to see that much stuff burn. People you knew and you know. Woods you've been in all your life," said Davis.

All that remains in the woods are charred tree trunks and bare limbs. The Texas Forest Service reports in all, 1,700 acres burned. You'll find the damage on either side of Hwy 294, just west of Alto.

Residents there have a renewed respect for state and volunteer firefighters who put in long hours to protect homes and businesses.

"As much as 36 hours at a time. And finally, somebody figured out, you've been here too long. Go home," said Ronnie Kimbrough, Emergency Management Coordinator.

"There were houses that literally should have burned that weren't because of the works of our firemen. They were fantastic," said Davis.

Now the officials want to reimburse the volunteer agencies.

"Currently, we are looking at about $175,000 of documented expense for the wildfires," said Kimbrough.

There are 12 volunteer fire department in Cherokee County, including one in downtown Rusk. All the departments worked together and during the summer fires all the department received wear and tear on their equipment.

"We lost some wiring on this truck. Underneath it we had to have a belt replaced. A limb got up into the best system on the truck," said Terry Phillips, Rusk Firefighter.

The patient wait for funds is underway. Meanwhile, lessons learned are reviewed. A unified radio communication system would be helpful.

Residents are learning it's important to be ready for the next big fire.

"These fires made everybody make a plan as far as, ok, if we have a fire and we have to leave here immediately, we're going to get the pictures," said Davis.

Somewhat like the old black and whites of years gone by which line the courthouse walls. The images depict what was important at the time.

Right now, what's important to a Cherokee County judge is seeing the return of his childhood woods.

Cherokee County experienced another big fire the week before the Hwy 294 fire.

The biggest part of the fire was in Nacogdoches County where it began at the Angelina river bottom. The fire eventually jumped the river into Cherokee County.

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