ABILENE, Texas (KTAB/KRBC) – Large swaths of Eagle Mountain were left in ash following the Hill Top Fire which tore across at least 200 acres Friday through Sunday. As of the latest update Tuesday morning, the fire was 90% contained at 200 acres. Fire crews have continued to mop up hot spots in efforts to ensure that flames won’t spark up again.
Eric “Yank” Emco manages Webb Ranch on Eagle Mountain. He told KTAB/KRBC the fire claimed all of the ranch’s cattle-grazing land, and the flames came within just a few yards of his home.
“Our biggest fear living up here is a fear of fire,” Yank gazed out upon the decimated land across the mountain. “You don’t know what’s gonna come of it, which way it’s gonna go, or who it’s gonna take. It don’t care… It was scary.”
As many of his far-off neighbors evacuated the area, Yank watched the flames grow and emergency crews make their way up the mountain to fight the fire.
“I come from a fire department family of 21 years. I’ve seen a lot of fires in my life. This was just unbelievable. The flames were going higher than that tower, and then the heat from the smoke and everything was just overwhelming,” described Yank.
Bill Sweeney with the Texas A&M Forest Service explained how crews were able to get to the Hill Top Fire so quickly, “We were at a smaller fire, and we literally saw the plume in the distance, and said, ‘we need to go find that.'”
Rapidly spreading flames and rough terrain made initial attack on the ground nearly impossible, according to Sweeney.
“When it’s burning that hot, a lot of times, fire managers won’t send crews in if it’s too hot or dangerous… So, we used air support from initial attack all the way through yesterday,” Sweeney further explained.
For many in that area, such a large and fast-moving wildfire brings to mind the Mesquite Heat Fire of 2022. While the 10,000+ acres claimed in that fire are a far cry from the estimated 200 acres of the Hill Top Fire, Forest Service Regional Wild Land Urban Interface Coordinator Stuart Morris told KTAB/KRBC the similarities are striking. The difference was made by a swift coordinated response and heavy aerial support.
“We got fortunate with this fire that we had a lot of resources available upon initial attack,” attributed Morris.
Sweeny picked up, “Sometimes water just isn’t enough. You need that retardant to slow that forward progression.”
The land lost will certainly be a setback for ranchers like Yank, but he said he was ultimately thankful that land is all that was lost.
“Nobody got hurt, we didn’t lose no cattle. We lost some land, but that can be replaced… The invisible man looked out for everybody, He did it for us,” Yank praised.
Even so, Yank said they will have to ship in feeding bales and rolls for their cattle while they wait for their grazing land to replenish, though that may take years to recover.
“Other than that, I’m happy. Ain’t much else I can say. My dogs are alive, and my animals are good,” added Yank.