More Cross Plains Fire Stories

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In the Cross Plains Review for March 16, 2006 there was a good story on the December 27, 2005 Cross Plains fire that devastated the town. The article is reprinted below for your edification:

Man With Ties to Cross Plains Writes His Take on the Wildfire

Editor’s Note: Cleve Wiese, a graduate journalism student at New York University (NYU), wrote this story after visiting Cross Plains in the days following the fire. He is the son of Larry and Patricia (better known as Sissy Barr) Wiese and the grandson of the late Clara Nell Spencer.

CROSS PLAINS, TX-Hollis Sherrell recalled fighting the flames with a garden hose as they approached his back yard. Finally realizing the futility of this defense, he climbed in his old pickup and, with the tank of pure oxygen he relies on to breathe situated in the seat next to him, made his way along a once peaceful country lane turned tunnel-of-fire.
“Boy, I told that truck, you better keep running because if you don’t, me and you both are sunk,” he said.

When, despite overpowering heat and blinding smoke, he finally made it to relative safety, he said he noticed something forgotten in the pickup-bed: an open container of gasoline.

Stories of death-defying heroics and miraculous escapes like Sherrell’s have abounded in Cross Plains in the days since devastating wildfires wreaked havoc on the quiet community on Dec. 27, destroying (according to Red Cross estimates) 116 homes and killing two people.

Immediately after the fire, the town looked like a war zone. Random details sporadically leapt out from scenes of general destruction: a strand of Christmas lights dangling from a caved-in carport, a pair of charred bicycles neatly laid in front of a gutted house, a blackened cross rescued from the rubble of the destroyed Methodist Church. The pastures along Highway 36, where the fire began, had turned to seas of black dotted by gray piles of ash-once hay bales.

But, even then, the predominate mood in the town seemed to be one of hope, even gratitude. A sign in front of one local church read, “Lord, as bad as it is, it could have been so much worse. We are thankful.”

In Connie Kirkham’s main street beauty shop, just three days after her home was destroyed, Mary Jones wanted to talk about the one thing she’d miraculously recovered: her pet. At her job as a cashier in the local grocery store, mere hours after leaving her house had burned, Jones happened to overhear a city worker mention a dog saved near Jones’s property and sleeping in his truck. She immediately closed her register, despite a line of customers, and went outside to verify the good news. The dog was hers.
“We thought she’d died in the fire because it came so fast,” she said. “We call her the little miracle dog.”

Ed Duncan, standing in front of the home he’d saved with a garden hose, casually recounted the death-defying extraction of a keg of black powder from a burning shed filled with firearms.

“(My son) sprayed me with water while I went in there to get it,” he said, “I knew it’d blow out our windows and probably our neighbor’s too.”

Insurance company representatives were a common sight around town in the days following the fire. Some, emotions overriding official capacity, were clearly over-whelmed by the carnage before them.

“Our insurance man cried today,” said one resident.

But not everyone could rely on insurance policies to help them recover.

“I’d just guess probably 30 percent of (the fire victims) didn’t have any insurance,” said Rolan Jones, Justice of the Peace. “Some of them had insurance but not enough to cover losses, and some of the ones I’ve talked to ,were well insured.”

For many, West Texas culture and the idea of insurance inherently clash.

“Some people don’t believe in insurance,” said Jones. “You have to give them a ticket every time you see them driving.”

The Cross Plains United Fire Relief Fund was set up in the days following the fire through the Texas Heritage Bank to assist these and other fire victims left with little or nothing.

But some things can’t be replaced. Sherrell said his wife, an artists, lost about 50 original paintings. They lost their cat. He lost his gun collection and a number of family heirlooms, including an old butter mold.

“It’s made a million pounds of butter,” Sherrell said. “I got up that morning played with that cat, drank some coffee. Didn’t have any idea what was going to happen that day.”