Sunday, March 19, 2006



  Area firemen respond to Panhandle fires
Monitor Staff Reports
GUN BARREL CITY–Four firefighters from Payne Springs and three from Gun Barrel City have returned from a quick trip to the Texas Panhandle to assist in fighting wildfires there, which have scorched about 750,000 acres and claimed 11 lives since last Sunday.
The men were relieved about 10:30 a.m. Thursday, after flames were isolated to a number of steep canyons and gullies, where it was being fought from the air with the release of fire retardant, Payne Springs Training officer Sean Kelsay told The Monitor, in a phone interview from the scene.
The volunteers responded to a call from the Texas Forest Service to Henderson County Fire Departments at 4 p.m. on Tuesday, March 14, and were ready to hit the road at 10 p.m. that night.
The two teams arrived in Amarillo eight hours later. Payne Springs firefighters were assigned to Amarillo Task Force One, along with Midland and Howard County, to protect the city’s east side.
GBC firefighters were assigned to fill in at nearby McLean. GBC’s Marty Sitzmann reported fighting a few fires there.
Payne Springs Fire Chief Randy Harley noted the men responding to the call took off from work, plus the fire departments are out the expense of fuel and maintenance on the two vehicles and equipment accompanying the responders.
“We are fortunate in this area to have volunteers and departments with this kind of initiative, and should remember this when these departments are seeking donations to operate,” Harley said.
The state responded to the emergency, which included 227 new fires within a 24-hour period, destroying 15 homes and burning 191,000 acres, with 26 aircraft, 55 bulldozer crews, 13 heavy fire engines and more than 350 personnel directly engaged in fight the blazes, a press release from the governor’s office stated.
More than 133 missions were flown with 135,000 gallons of fire retardant dropped, credited with saving 450 homes, the governor’s office stated.
In addition, firefighters from Oklahoma and New Mexico have been working in Texas since last weekend.
Additional bulldozer crews from Georgia and South Dakota were en route to the scene Tuesday, the release stated.
Monday night the bodies of four fire victims were found in a vehicle in Roberts County.
The fires also claimed the lives of three from Hutchinson and four in Gray County.
Three volunteer fire fighters from Howardwick in Donley County were critically injured, two of which are in intensive care at Northwest Texas Hospital in Amarillo.
Since Dec. 26, 2005, more than 10,365 separate wildfires in Texas have burned nearly 3.7 million acres and destroyed 397 homes.


First day of spring is Monday, March 20

Monitor Photo/Kerry Yancey
An insect stands atop a pear tree blossom, taking in spring-like conditions. Spring begins Monday, and while pear blossoms are a short-lived sight in East Texas, other trees and plants are blooming or budding out in preparation for summer.


Texas Rangers investigate Hall
Admits to paving church parking lots
By Diane Murray
Monitor Correspondent

ATHENS–Henderson County Precinct 1 Commissioner Joe D. Hall is under investigation by the Texas Rangers.
The charge involves using county equipment and employees to pave two church parking lots.
The churches are the Antioch Baptist Church in Malakoff and the Landmark Baptist Church in Athens.
“I did the work. I checked with the county attorney and the attorney general before I did it, and as I understood them, as long as the church provides services to the public, it is okay,” Hall said.
“Churches provide all kinds of services for the community. We have had some of them pitch in during Katrina in a big way. (He did not indicate whether or not these two helped or not.)
“I did not feel I was doing anything illegal,” Hall said.
“The churches are nonprofit organizations,” Hall said, and briefly referred to President Bush’s faith-based initiative and support of churches, helping the community.
“At the end of the year when we’re out of money to pave the roads with, the guys used to sit around and play dominoes. But now we stay busy, there is no more of that,” Hall said.
“We were paid for the materials by the churches, we can’t do anything without that,” Hall said.
To Hall’s credit, since 2000 when he was first seated as Precinct 1 Commissioner, he has paved more unpaved and badly paved county roads, than any other commissioner before him, according to previous court discussions.
And he’s done this, even though Precinct 1 has at least double the number of road miles of any other precinct, and receives the same amount of funding as the other three precincts for road repair.
Hall has also housed road equipment on the west side of the lake by West Cedar Creek Municipal Utility District, so in case of emergency, equipment is readily available to the western part of the county.
Texas Ranger Trace McDonald has been assigned to the case.
The District Attorney’s Office confirmed the case was filed, and D.A.Donna Bennett turned it over to the Texas Rangers.