DICKENS COUNTY, TX (KCBD) - Some volunteer fire departments on the South Plains are struggling to keep up with the constant calls for wildfires across the region and now it's taking a toll physically and financially.
Many of those volunteer departments are funded mostly by donations from the community, including the McAdoo VFD. Chief Mack Gardner tells KCBD his department usually responds to 20 fires a year but in this dangerous fire season, McAdoo has surpassed that number just 4 months into 2018.
"We're usually doing one or two a month," Assistant Chief Russ Edinburgh said. "Now, we are doing one or two a week. In 2011 we did something like 90 fires. It looks like we are headed that way this year."
McAdoo joins its fellow volunteer departments, Spur and Dickens, in responding to fires in Dickens County. The trio was first on scene to two wildfires on April 13 that the Texas A&M Forest Service estimates burned 3,100 acres east of McAdoo.
"We have a lot of volunteers in Dickens County but a lot of people, they work for companies where they can't take off during the day," Edinburgh said. "If they get a call during the day, they can't leave their job to respond to a fire. We help cover the Spur area, the Spur area helps cover us. We also help Dickens. Dickens helps us. All three of the departments in Dickens County work together really well. If we didn't work together we couldn't do what we do."
McAdoo and many other volunteer departments couldn't survive without the donations from the community. Edinburgh said 75 percent of funding comes from those contributions with Dickens County and grants making up the rest.
"The cost of the equipment has gotten excessively high," Edinburgh said. "We have some of the best people in this county and in this area that donate to the department. Without their funds, we wouldn't be able to exist. They keep us in business."
The wildfire calls, especially in the rugged terrain off the Caprock, have left that equipment and other department resources damaged and in need of repair. As a small department, members say it's always short of needed funds and upgrades to gear.
"We've got a lot of repairs we have to make," Edinburgh said. "We go to a fire like Friday and Saturday with all the dirt and the soot, we have to take trucks in and change air filters and change the oil because your engine is breathing a tremendous amount of dirt. It takes a hard toll on all that equipment. If we don't take care of it, then later on down the road we won't have that equipment."
Repairs and upgrades made or not, the fire fighters say the battle is for their neighbors and the fight will continue.
"Every time we go to a fire, we know those people," Edinburgh said. "We got to church with them. We see them at restaurants. They are good people and we like to help them and they like to help us. They would do anything for us and we would do anything for them."
Edinburgh asks everyone to prevent a wildfire by stopping any chance of a spark. That includes chains on trailers, heat from exhausts or vehicle undercarriages. Properly discard any smoking material and do not burn anything outdoors.