It's been a year since massive wildfires burned across the South Plains, torching millions of acres in Texas and costing area volunteer fire departments millions of dollars.
Wildfires have died down since they started last December, but have those fire departments bounced back after their budgets went up in smoke?
Michael Isbell, the emergency management coordinator for Garza, Crosby and King Counties, says they have.
"It was a pretty devastating fire season all the way around. It started December 21st for us, and it lasted way too long. We had several big fires in April and a couple of big ones in March," he said.
Isbell says a typical volunteer fire department's budget can range from $70,000 to $80,000 for a year. He says last year the wildfires in Garza County cost them close to one million dollars – their entire budget gone in a matter of months.
"We lost so much equipment and had to go in and buy some new equipment. In our area we had to use old army trucks because the terrain is not your average with the Caprock," said Isbell. "If it hadn't of been for the donations, the fund raisers, and all that - the Post Volunteer Fire Department would just be limping along with just one or two trucks."
Just when it seemed as if the volunteer departments wouldn't survive another wildfire year, the communities stepped up. Isbell says through school and community fundraisers Garza County raised about $130,000. They also received about $45,000 from the FEMA emergency declaration.
Since they received so much support from the community, Isbell says they didn't have to apply for grants from the Texas Forest Service like other departments. "We know there are less fortunate fire departments out there, so we opted not to take that route. Hopefully another department that was more needing would get it," he said.
With the wildfire season about to be underway, and with the drought still looming, Isbell says they're preparing for a new year of fires by holding meetings, checking equipment, and making sure everyone is on the same page. "I just hope everybody keeps their fingers and toes crossed that we get plenty of rain and we won't have a season like we did."
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