by Gyvel Young Witzel ©2008
On Saturday afternoon of November 26, 1988, Mike Inman and his brother Jerry had settled in for what they thought would be a relaxing holiday weekend. It was a typical fall afternoon with crisp and gusty winds, but this day, something was different. Mike looked up at the sky and noticed embers as both of them recognized the distinct smell of burning vegetation. The duo ran towards the edge of their hilltop property, peered over a ledge, and saw a fire rolling up towards them at 30 miles an hour! Hill Country Ranches was about to be hit by the county’s most devastating grass fire in decades.
Just minutes earlier, Jack Prindible saw rolling black smoke from his vantage point on Montell Road. At first he thought it was a vehicle on fire but something about the smoke caught his attention. So, he walked down his hill towards the road to investigate and found a woman in the middle of the road waving her arms and screaming, “There’s a fire! Quick, my son and husband are in there!”
It turns out that a deer hunter on lot number 187 (on Montell Road) had lit a campfire and lost control of it. Unfortunately, 90 days without rain combined with the high winds to create the perfect recipe for disaster. A spark hit the ground and the winds fanned it into a flame. Fed by vegetation and driven by the gusts, flames became waves of fire rolling into canyons, leaping over hills, and plunging into crevices—consuming everything in their wake.
Within the hour, Hill Country Ranches became a hub of activity. Fifteen fire departments converged on the scene to fight the conflagration. Described in the Wimberley View as “a remote area of brush and tree covered canyons and ridges,” the rugged terrain posed an immediate obstacle to tankers and firefighters alike. What’s worse, most of these volunteers had little experience navigating this type of terrain.
At 2:45 p.m., the Wimberley and Blanco fire departments were the first to arrive on the scene. They were quickly followed by volunteers from Buda, South Hays, Kyle, Dripping Springs, Deer Creek, Canyon Lake, Henly, Driftwood, Uhland, and the Storm Ranch. As reported by the Wimberley View newspaper, there were 27 fire trucks, two ambulances, six police units, a private airplane, a DPS helicopter, and 80 people engaged in the fight. In spite of these resources, they didn’t reach the front of the fire until 8:30 that night.
According to Mike Inman, there were about 50-60 residents in Hill Country Ranches that year. For this reason, the primary concern of the fire departments was focused on structure protection. The procedure was simple: One by one, an engine was dispatched to each home, where it was hosed down to keep the flames at bay as the fire roared by. This process was repeated with every residence that stood in the path of the inferno. Drenched and weary, volunteers left the scorched scene at around 5 a.m. on Sunday.
That night, as firefighters continued battling the fire front, husbands, wives and children took turns using buckets to put out hot spots around their homes. “The trees that were ignited with the first path (of the fire) just kept burning and burning,” recalls Inman.
Jack Prindible will never forget that Saturday night: “My wife and I watched throughout the night,” he exclaims. “She took part of the night and I took part of it. She woke me up in the morning and said, ‘the fire has started again!’” By 8 a.m., the tired volunteers were called back to HCR. This time, they stayed until late Sunday afternoon. When it was all over, the fire consumed 700 acres of land, destroyed two camper trailers, a truck, a boat, and one partially built home. Thankfully, twelve homes that sat directly in the wake of the fire were saved. As Prindible states, “I think it is astounding that there wasn’t more property damage with this fire.”
♥ Fire photos courtesy of the Wimberley View, Henly VFD, and Mike Inman