County fire ranger returns from Texas
By By MARY-ALLISON LANCASTER – Managing editor
Eight Alabama Forestry Commission wildland firefighters returned from a 16-day assignment in Texas while eight others are en-route to relieve them Alabama Forestry Commission officials announced this week.
Among the eight firefighters was Escambia County's own Woody Jackson.
Jackson is a wildland firefighter and ranger for Escambia County. He and the other seven men left for duty Dec. 28 and returned safely Jan. 13.
According to a news release from the Alabama Forestry Commission, the crews were sent on a request from the U.S. Forest Service because of the wildfire problem Texas and Oklahoma has experienced over the past weeks.
After reporting to Lufkin, Texas, the Alabama crews were sent to Abilene, Texas and Decatur, Texas where they were responsible for local firefighting, while the resident U.S. Forest Service firefighters were assisting in Oklahoma. They traveled with transport/tractor units and were serving as initial attack crews.
Jackson said that this isn't the first time he's been sent to aid other fire-prone states. He said that he went to Montana in 2003 and “did the same thing with the fires out there.”
Jackson said that all the southeastern states have an agreement that when any state gets into a bad fire hazard they deploy and help out. He said that they pulled resources from Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Tennessee, Alabama, Florida, Mississippi, Georgia and Virginia.
According to State Forester Timothy C. Boyce, the wildfire problem in Texas has not diminished and the U.S. Forest Service made a request for the Alabama crews to be replaced with fresh firefighters. Two, two-man crews left for Texas Wednesday, Jan. 11, and another group of eight left for Texas to replace the returning crew. They will be working a 16-day assignment in the same areas.
Despite the severity of the fires, Jackson said that it appeared a majority of the fires were under control. The units that have recently been deployed will strictly monitor of the trouble spots.
It was near New Year's when Jackson began to see a bulk of the fires erupt. He contributed the fire problems to people negligently shooting fire works. He also said power lines caused some of the fires in the area where he was deployed, which is suffering from “an extreme drought.”
He said that two to three houses burned, along with several barns and several acres. Barbecue pits were another big fire issue. He said that people would light up the fire pits and not extinguish them properly. He added that any kind of vehicle hazard can also start fires in the drought areas.
Jackson said he wasn't sure how long the fires would continue in Texas. He said it depends on whether they get any of the rain that's been working its way through the southeastern states. In the meantime, a fire ban has been implemented throughout cities in Texas.
Escambia County is also approaching fire season, Jackson said. He said that unless he's called back to Texas, he's going to remain in the county to help out with this year's fire season.
Within the last 16 months, Escambia County has been affected by three major hurricanes. Jackson said that debris from Hurricane Ivan still lingers in surrounding areas, and with the pile up of debris from hurricanes Katrina and Dennis, it's posed to cause a bigger headache for area firemen.