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Expenses for Brush Fire near Olmito Unknown, Likely to Fall on Taxpayers

3 years 10 months 3 weeks ago Thursday, January 12 2017 Jan 12, 2017 January 12, 2017 5:53 PM January 12, 2017 in News

NEAR OLMITO – A local fire official said they’re currently working on trying to figure out the overall cost of a fire near Olmito.

Fire departments from Cameron, Hidalgo and Willacy counties played a role in putting out a fire that burned over 300 acres the past three days.  

Brownsville Fire Chief Carlos Elizondo said the crew’s work is far from over.

 “We continue to have equipment that we have to clean, put back in service, making sure and go back one by one so there is no loss,” he said.

The fire chief said he predicts the bill for fighting the fire will be in the double digits. He said the hours racked up may empty the department’s budget.

Elizondo said the cost to suffocate a large-scale fire may trickle down to the taxpayers.

“The city will probably pick up the cost because that’s what they are here for, to provide public safety and that’s what they pay us for,” he said.

There are agreements in place between departments and counties that state agencies will help each other without expecting reimbursements. It’s a model that was adopted after the 911 attacks.

The fire happened in an area outside of Brownsville city limits. The Cameron County Emergency Service District contract the city’s fire department to cover the area.

The agency’s administrator, Graciela Salinas, said 10 fire departments in Cameron County get paid about $1,400 for every fire they respond to in their designated districts.

Elizondo said he requested help from half a dozen neighboring fire departments. He said all of them comply with the mutual aid agreement.

 “Yes, there is a cost behind to it. But a lot of the time, we do have mutual aid agreements,” he said. “People come out to help, same thing in return. If there’s a big event they’ll call us and we’ll be there to help them out.”

Elizondo said the state requires fire departments to commit to help others in exchange for special equipment. In this case, Edinburg’s fire department has a bulldozer truck that helps build fire barriers.

“The city hosting that equipment takes the responsibility of manning it or being able to respond to a mutual aid call like we did yesterday,” he said. “The equipment falls under the state. All we do is we provide the service, so they continue to house it. The state picks up the cost.”

Elizondo said volunteer fire departments, like Los Fresnos, don’t get any pay at all. He said they’ll have to apply for state funds or grants if they want to get paid.

The fire chief said manpower management is important when they respond to large fires. He said someone from the department keeps track of staff and accumulated overtime on site. It’s part of an effort to control the expense of fighting fires.

Elizondo added firefighters also suffered fatigue while fighting the fire. He said crews on the ground were being rotated every 25 minutes to ensure no one worked to the point of exhaustion.

Fighting a hot fire with full gear can quickly take a toll. We learned stations were set up for firefighters to cool off as they rotate out of any incident.

“The gear adds to the internal temperatures of the firefighter, especially with 100 percent exertion,” Elizondo said. “Then you have the heat coming off the actual material that’s burning, so you’re actually looking at something above 200 or 300 degrees.”

No injuries were reported.

Officials said the fire burned down two abandoned homes.

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