ABILENE, Texas (KTAB/KRBC) – Dry conditions are continuing to produce flames across the Big Country, but it’s the quick response from local fire departments that’s saved so many lives and homes.
Just south of Kirby Lake on FM 707, response times can take a little longer, leading to a potential new fire station to create shorter waits for those impacted.
For Michelle Kessler, her Saddle Lakes backyard was once teeming with lush green grass, vibrant hedges and 20-foot tall pine trees. It was a peaceful sight, reminding her of home back in North Carolina.
“We never dreamed it would happen in our own backyard,” Kessler said.
That lush greenery and safe home feel changed Monday, July 18 when a fire burned the property just behind her. The flames slowly crept up to their home, burning the fencing, catching telephone wires on fire and starting what looked and sounded like a small fireworks show just above the pine treetops.
“When we were finally able to come back up here, flames kept coming up from under the fence and hot spots, I suppose.” Kessler said. “A lot of ash, sweeping up ash and blowing off ash. I was pulling up plants that had been scorched and burned.”
Her backyard paradise was left in ashes to be blown away in the West Texas winds. From the smallest pine cones, to the remains of fence boards and even the charred-covered face of a cherub water fountain.
The flames grew taller than the pine trees themselves, Kessler said, and got so hot they singed the perfectly trimmed hedges lining her back patio.
Praising the quick response from the local fire departments, she said the only thing that could’ve made it a little easier was having a fire station in closer proximity to their homes.
While the cost of building a new station is pricey, it has been a priority in the minds of the Abilene Fire Department for nearly seven years. Fire Chief Cande Flores told KTAB/KRBC a potential new station, “Fire Station No. 9,” would be located on city-owned property on the Lake Kirby side of FM 707 towards Tuscola. It would be an estimated $7-7.5 million facility.
Chief Flores said southside fire stations have seen larger increases in responses since the beginning of 2021, due, in part, to an expanding Abilene, homes and businesses south of town.
The proposal for a new fire station was brought before the Abilene City Council, according to Chief Flores, by the Mayor’s Blue Ribbon Committee – offering the idea to be voted on in the city’s November Bond elections.
If approved and passed, Station nine would be a separate entity, manned with a full staff, new equipment and easier access to the southernmost parts of the city.
“Right now, we anticipate nearly 800-1,000 runs being at station nine,” Chief Flores estimated.
A heavy reason for a new station: Lowering response times from the north Abilene stations to the southside of town. Chief Flores said it’s a nationwide standard that response times should be less than, or near the five minute mark.
“We’re right about seven minutes, just a little over for places like Saddle Lakes,” Chief Flores emphasized. “I mean ultimately, that’s unacceptable. We can’t do what we need to do and protect the community with those response times.”
A position he doesn’t take lightly, Chief Flores said with conditions like we’ve seen this summer, those extra two minutes can be the difference between life and death. or a saved home or lost home. He stressed that every second counts when dealing with the unpredictability of West Texas fires.
With a new station, hopefully preventing the potential loss of loved ones, property or even beloved pine trees, and having to hear the remains of an owner’s cherished land sound like this:
It’s well achievable, according to Chief Flores, if and when it is approved by City Council and voted upon in the November Bond elections.