Thursday, September 15, 2011

A rash of wildfires in Texas in recent days has left many fire departments stretched thin on resources. Officials say firefighters handled over 18,000 wildfires in the state thus far in 2011; in a recent week there were nearly 200. President Obama declared Texas a disaster area recently.

A number of wildfires around the state have struck near or even within populated areas. One of the worst fires yet struck near the city of Bastrop. That fire alone destroyed 45 square miles of land and over 700 residences, according to the Texas Forest Service.

A Captain with the Chandler Fire Department. Image: Paul M. Budd.

Wes Johnston, a captain with the Chandler Fire Department, told Wikinews that earlier this month, his department spent 7 hours extinguishing a single blaze near Brownsboro. Captain Johnston, who is also an accountant, explained that the excessive number of fires has placed stress on his department’s ability to cope with the demands. “Most volunteer fire departments [depend on] donations, completely; and donations have been down due to the economic conditions.” He went on to describe how fuel and maintenance costs put further strain on most departments’ ability to function effectively. “Even the cities have a set budget, for the paid departments, so they don’t factor in a’ lot of the variables for these types of incidents.”

Some volunteer firefighters in the eastern part of the state have averaged 2–3 hours of sleep per night recently, due to heavy demands. Even spouses of some firefighters have voiced concern over workloads.

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