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Rural Areas Benefitting From New Emergency Fire System

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NORTH TEXAS (CBSDFW.COM) – With both a Wind Advisory and Fire Weather Warning in effect across North Texas, dry, dangerous conditions should be a concern for everyone.

Firefighters in Parker County prepared well in advance for days just like today.

“Oh yeah, everybody is on alert today,” said Michael Ellis, the Assistant Chief with Parker County Emergency Services District 1. “It’s a red flag warning day today. It’s very bad for grass fires.”

It is a dangerous formula. The combination of high winds, low humidity and dry grass is dry enough to ignite with the slightest spark.

The weather conditions are the type that keeps firefighters and emergency planners on edge.

Parker County Emergency Management Director Mark Riley admitted, “You know, it’s scary. I just told somebody a while ago that the wind frightens me in fire season.”

Assistant Chief Ellis agreed that crews have to be extra cautious. “You get that combination with the dry grass and the vegetation we have right now and you could have a catastrophic event.”

Now Parker County is building a fire response system to ease some of those fears.  Just a few years ago, the county was battling wildfires with a bare minimum of men and equipment.  They were an all-volunteer force.

“They had to make do with what they had,” assistant Chief Ellis said of the people who freely gave their time and often risked their lives. “They had to go off donations and what the county could give them.  They had fundraisers… a lot of fundraisers.”

On Thursday the city of Aledo commissioned a new fire truck.  They city is now part of what’s called an Emergency Service District (ESD). The ESDs team together rural areas to form a taxing district, to buy equipment. The Parker County ESD protects 300 square miles.

The new system means Aledo is now protected by five fire stations with paid firefighters.  In the past year alone the ESDs have purchased four new fire trucks and 70 sets of protective gear for their firefighters.

“It does make the burden a little lighter knowing that there’s better equipment on the ground,” Riley said of the joint efforts. “We have paid men and women on the ground that we didn’t have before. And they’re ready to help each other. It doesn’t matter if it’s a rural fire or a city fire.”

Residents are also taking steps to reduce fire danger by mowing their grass and removing dry, dead shrubbery from around their property.

(©2014 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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