“Tripp Fire” claims 2,337 acres

14 Emergency Services departments work together to contain weekend grass fire
Fire dubbed “Tripp Fire” claims 2,337 acres

Tori Minick

The first calls came in within minutes of each other just before 1pm on Friday, February 10, 2017… A small fire near Valley School on Highway 86 west of Turkey, and possible grass fire east of Turkey on Highway 86 and County Road 8. Turkey Volunteer Fire Department members began to organize, sending two trucks west, and spotters east. Two other TVFD members began to make their way from Lakeview, already able to see smoke.

There were reports from people able to see the smoke from the Tripp Fire as far away as
Plainview and Floydada.

Shortly after arriving, Turkey firefighters had to find the best ways to get trucks down into the canyons and nearest the fire, to begin to fight it. There were only a few roads that allowed access to the fire, and maintainers were not yet on scene to cut fireguards or roads to remote areas. 

Pictured above, Turkey firefighters discuss which trucks would proceed further into the smoke to begin fighting the fire from the head (in front of it), and which ones would stay near a barn and house nearby to protect the buildings and livestock.

 

The first fire was called in by TxDOT members, and was in a ditch and nearly out by the time trucks arrived. It was quickly contained, and those members started out for the next one, which (by then) was being reported as “not a controlled burn,” and “spreading quickly.” At the time, many Turkey VFD members were at work and not readily available. Many left their jobs and started towards home to help. Members of Quitaque and Flomot Fire Departments started that way.

Silverton Volunteer Fire Department already had trucks and a crew out for a call that turned out to be a controlled burn, and began heading towards Turkey to offer assistance.

The first few on scene, south of Highway 86 on County Road 8 in Hall County, southeast of Tampico, reported that a house, barn, and livestock were in the potential path of the fire, and more departments began to be contacted. Quitaque, Flomot, Matador, Memphis, and eventually Clarendon and Floydada Fire Departments were brought in. Texas Forestry Service was contacted, and sent the Caprock Taskforce (Lubbock) with nine people, two dozers, one maintainer, and one engine; the Red River Taskforce (Childress) with nine people, two dozers, and one engine; and the Big Country Taskforce (Merkel) with seven people and two dozers. Also coming in to assist were Hall and Briscoe County Sheriff’s Departments, Texas DPS, Hall County Emergency Management, and countless volunteers. There were 18 grass trucks, four tankers, two support vehicles, and three command vehicles on scene from area fire departments, and approximately 50 area firefighters.

Around 10pm Friday night, you could still see flames and smoke from Highway 84, where several tankers were set up for water refills. You can see a Floydada brush truck (left) coming in from the fire for more water. 

Late Friday night and into Saturday morning, several trucks and volunteers in personal vehicles set up on County Road 15 to discuss which crews would stay on to make sure the fire didn’t spread overnight, until fresh firefighters and other equipment could be brought in once the sun rose.

 

Firefighters managed to protect the structures and livestock near where the fire began, but winds pushed it further east and north. Deep canyons and thick brush and trees created the perfect environment for the flames, and made getting to it impossible in some areas. As the fire continued to spread to the northeast, other structures were protected as well.

Maintainers were brought in to begin cutting fireguards, wide paths scraped down to dirt, in hopes of cutting off the flames. In many places this helped, and in others the wind carried the fire over and on to the vegetation on the other side. Throughout the afternoon and evening, more and more departments began to arrive, bringing bodies and equipment to help. Semi-truck tankers from at least three departments were brought into Turkey to refill three or more times.

Dusty Whitaker, of Childress, flew on scene in his helicopter equipped with a bucket made for dropping water. He dropped countless loads of water scooped from a nearby tank, and was a huge help to firefighters on the ground, pointing out openings in the fire to get from place to place, indicating the hottest burning areas, etc.

Dusty Whitaker scooped countless loads of water from a nearby tank to dump across the hottest burning parts of the fire. He also acted as an aerial spotter, pointing out paths and other crews to firefighters on the ground. 

 

Crews worked into the night and were forced to stop when the fires left were in canyons too dangerous to try and reach in the dark. Many departments were let go, as there was little to do but wait, and a few stayed on, waiting for daylight and fresh volunteers. Saturday morning the flames were again being pushed by rising winds, and crews worked to get fireguards around what they couldn’t reach Friday night.

Although Saturday didn’t see the size fire that Friday did, crews still battled the wind to keep it from spreading out of control again. Luke Boedeker, of Boedeker Flying Service, brought in two planes to dump lines of water along the head of the fire, and firefighters continued to put out “hot spots” all around the burned area.

The last Turkey Fire truck checked back into the station at 8:51pm on Saturday. Texas Forestry Service stayed on the scene, continuing to monitor the area until 5pm Sunday, when the fire was officially declared cold.

One common comment, when speaking to officers of the departments who helped, was on the cooperation of so many different entities being the key to successfully putting out this fire. With the high winds, dry vegetation, and impassible canyons, this fire could have easily burned through hundreds of thousands of acres. Each department worked smoothly with the rest, and every one arrived ready to help out in any way they could. Thanks to this, and the skill and hard work of every volunteer out there, there were no structures lost, no injuries, and only minor damages to some vehicles, most notably flat tires, which is to be expected driving in such rough country.

The fire has been named the Tripp Fire, as it originated on the property of the Tripp family of Turkey. The cause of the fire is thought to be from a cutting torch being used to work on a gate. DPS reports that 2,337 acres were burned.

Craig Turner (Matador Fire Dept.) provided these shots from a helicopter, showing the sheer size of the burned area. A sixman football field is very near an acre…imagine over 2,000 sixman football fields laid out together…that’s how big this fire was.

 

The Turkey Volunteer Fire Department would like to extend a huge THANK YOU to Quitaque, Flomot, Silverton, Matador, Memphis, Floydada, and Clarendon Fire departments; Hall and Briscoe County Sheriff’s Offices; Hall County Emergency Management; Texas Forestry Service for sending firefighters and trucks, and heavy equipment and operators; individuals who ran maintainers and bulldozers; Dusty Whitaker, Luke Boedeker Flying Service, and DPS for the help from the air; Merrell Food and others who donated food and drinks to crews on the ground; OK Tire; and each and every single person who was out there helping in any way.

The photo above is a view down County Road 15, just before a fireguard was cut to widen the road. The roads are enough to “corral” these fires in some instances, but the high winds we had Friday and Saturday allowed the flames to “jump” even these larger county roads. This photo and the ones above, except for the aerial photos by Craig Turner, were taken by Tori Minick. 

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1 Comment

  1. Albert Trotter on March 10, 2017 at 8:44 am

    terrible scenes are captured..May God protect us all from bad times

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