The student-run newspaper of the Liberal Arts and Science Academy

The Liberator

The student-run newspaper of the Liberal Arts and Science Academy

The Liberator

The student-run newspaper of the Liberal Arts and Science Academy

The Liberator

Texas Panhandle Fires

Q&A With Fire Academy Student

Starting in late February, flames engulfed the Texas panhandle. The fires, caused by faulty electrical wires, quickly destroyed the livestock-friendly land, known as cattle country for being home to tens of thousands of cattle. Although the fire began to die down in March, the impact will last years, according to The Washington Post. The Panhandle Fires are the largest wildfires in Texas history and one of the largest wildfires in U.S. history. 

Ramona Gonzalez is a LASA senior and fire academy student, a double-blocked two-year course training students in firefighting. Gonzalez shared her insight on the Panhandle Fires. 

Williams: What inspired your interest in firefighting? 

Gonzalez: I love helping people and I feel like there is no point to my job unless I am helping people, and I am very interested in the medical world. When the opportunity of Fire Academy came to me, I jumped on it and applied. 

How does the fire academy prepare you mentally and physically for the stress you might face when firefighting? 

It is both really mentally and physically draining to respond to calls and to be under stress in a smoky, unknown environment. The academy taught us how to be okay extending past what we knew in a safe way, and slowly made it less and less controlled until we were fighting live fires. 

Why might the terrain in the Texas panhandle be a challenge for firefighting?  

The panhandle is super open, so fire spreads like crazy. The only natural stopper for the flames would be the roads, and even then sometimes they can’t. The terrain is different throughout, sometimes you have flat plains, sometimes you have rocky edges and cliffs. The weather conditions are also really hard on the emergency responders.

What are the most important qualities a firefighter should have when working in a place like the panhandle? 

Environmental awareness and communication. Telling people when you feel a hole in the ground or a fallen utility wire or any other environmental threat is how you can prevent losses and make the job easier. Proper gear is also important, you don’t want to be in structure firefighting gear for a wildfire.

What might be common causes of fire in the Texas panhandle?

Most are from human error. Campsite fires gone rogue, downed utility and electrical wires, and car accidents or other machinery are a big cause. The Texas panhandle also was the location of some of the most lightning strikes in all of Texas and around it, with mainly dry lightning, which is a huge danger with open grasses and areas, if a tree gets struck, everything goes down.

Asha Rountree
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