February 27th Wildfires: One Year Later

NewsChannel 10

Amarillo, Texas - February 27th marks one year since wildfires ravaged the Texas Panhandle and destroyed dozens of area homes.

Last February 27th brought fires almost impossible fight, with winds gusting up to 70 miles an hour and extremely dry conditions. Fires quickly spread and overtook Timbercreek Canyon, Lake Tanglewood, The Palisades, Willow Creek, and Mesilla Park.

It's a day not many who live in the area will ever forget.

Timbercreek Canyon Volunteer Fire Department Chief Deputy Clifford Higgins recalls, "It was just pure hell. The wind was blowing 55 miles an hour. Trying to fight a fire when the wind is blowing like that and moving 100 yards a minute, you just couldn't keep up with it."

Lake Tanglewood Fire Chief Robert Hulsey says, "This was a natural disaster and it was more than anyone was equipped to handle. Even together, it was truly more than all the volunteer fire departments and paid fire departments could take care of."

Randall County Fire Chief James Amerson explains, "I've been doing this 37 years, and that's the worst day I've experienced in my career. Firefighters are used to responding to a scene and making the scene better. That was a day where that wasn't an option we had. We were dealing more with a force of nature."

A force of nature that destroyed 70 Amarillo area homes, burned almost 26,000 acres in Potter and Randall counties, and caused millions of dollars worth of damage.

A year later the devastation still lingers. As victims rebuild their homes and their lives, the firefighters who battled this blaze also continue to pick up the pieces.

Chief Amerson says, "Emotionally it was devastating. When our community suffers losses, we tend to take it personally. We probably aged our fleet several years just in one season alone last year. We spent well over $60,000 doing equipment repairs."

The volunteer fire departments also suffered great losses.

But state funding cutbacks are making it tough to make those much needed repairs and replacements.

Which is why these departments are looking forward to April 1st when a half cent sales tax increase for rural Randall County businesses goes into place, and is estimated to generate some $140,000 a year for fire services.

Meanwhile, lessons learned from last February 27th, have these fire departments changing much of the way they will do things in the future.

Chief Hulsey explains, "Everyone is training together to become a cohesive unit, so when we are called, we know how we're going to react as a whole, rather than individual pieces."

They hope improving their tactics and increasing safety will make the outcome of this wildfire season a very different story.

Chief Amerson says, "I don't think we will ever be the same. It was a tragedy, it was a very difficult experience. We don't want to see that happen again."

You can do your part in gearing up for wildfire season by participating in the Randall County Fire Department's "Ready, Set, Go" program, which aims to remove any fire hazards from your home and yard.