By Zak Zeinert, Chief Photographer
Firefighters have completely contained a grass fire that burned more than 2,500 acres of land in Jones County, caused authorities to evacuate parts of the county, and close off several roads Thursday afternoon and evening.
Kevin Burkes, a firefighter for the Hawley Volunteer Fire Department, said there were still a few hotspots out in the burn area, but the fire was no longer a threat.
“There might be a hollowed out tree that’s still burning, but all in all there’s no longer any threat,” Burkes said.
The fire was reported to the Jones County Sheriff’s Office about 1 p.m Thursday, and volunteers from 15 fire departments around the Big Country responded.
Although the fire was burning more than 10 miles from ACU’s campus, smoke from the flames could be seen from Ambler Avenue. The fire is believed to have begun five miles east of Hawley, and at 7:30 p.m. it was moving in an east-northeast direction.
Six homes, five cabins and 20 other buildings were destroyed.
“We were the last ones to leave,” Burkes said. “It was probably contained sometime around midnight.”
The rapidly spreading fire and heavy smoke caused authorities to close off access to portions of Farm Road 600, Farm Road 1082 and U.S. Highway 180. These roads have since been reopened and homeowners have been allowed to return to the area.
The National Weather Service issued an emergency notification on several radio stations and other media channels Thursday evening. The warning urged residents of the area to evacuate their homes immediately and for persons near Nugent and the northern end of Lake Fort Phantom to also prepare for evacuation if the fire continued to spread.
John Windham, sheriff of Calahan County, arrived on the scene at 4:15 p.m. and immediately began directing traffic on West Lake Road.
“I called in to Jones County, and they told me they could use all the help they could get,” Windham said.
Investigators have not yet determined the cause of the fire.