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Fort Hood battles 11,380 acres of wildfires

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Extreme drought conditions have led to wildfires in Fort Hood's training areas, burning nearly five percent of the 215,000-acre post.

Since Aug. 19, three separate fires ignited on the ranges, burning 11,380 combined acres, and as of Sept. 6, a fire continued to burn at Jack Mountain.

"I flew over and visited the Jack Mountain range areas today," said Lt. Gen. Don Campbell Jr., III Corps and Fort Hood commanding general. "Fire Chief Billy J. Rhoads showed me the areas affected by the fires; currently the Department of Emergency Services and the Fort Hood Fire Department have the area 60 percent contained."

While personnel and the main cantonment area weren't threatened by the flames, concerns elevated across the installation Labor Day as 20 mph winds blew smoke and ash toward housing areas.

"We've had crews out here 24/7, if not working on the fire, monitoring to make sure that it's not spreading," said Lacey Eide, public information officer, Fort Hood Department of Emergency Services, or DES.

Fort Hood DES, Directorate of Public Works, Soldiers and the Texas Forestry Service have been battling the blazes with helicopters, bulldozers, graders, water tankers and additional ground support vehicles.

"I am proud of the hard work and professionalism of Chief Rhoads and his team in protecting Fort Hood, our Soldiers, our civilians and families," Campbell said.

The Pilot Knob Fire, which started Aug. 19, burned 1,500 acres and was contained Aug. 23. The Robinette Fire, which began Aug. 20, burned 6,180 acres before it was contained Aug. 23.

The Jack Mountain Fire began Aug. 30, and was 75 percent contained Sept. 4 after burning 3,000 acres, but high winds re-ignited hot spots, leading to an additional 700 acres of damage. As of Sept. 6, it was 60 percent contained.

Officials believe all three fires were started following routine training.

"Currently, there is no training in this area because of the fire," Eide said. "Also, because of the extreme conditions, they (Soldiers) are no longer going to be training, until further notice."

Coincidentally, September is National Preparedness Month, and the fires across Central Texas have reminded families about the importance of being prepared in the event of a natural disaster.

Through Ready Army, military communities are encouraged to get a kit, make a plan and be informed. On Fort Hood social media sites, families discussed what items they have in their Ready Army kits and what they would grab if they had only 30 minutes to evacuate.

"I would start grabbing a couple rings, my laptop, camera, all my pics/scrapbooks, have the kids grab their favorite toys, and then I'd just start loading down the car. I can pack a lot in 30 minutes. I've been an Army wife for eight years," Alicia Johnson wrote on Facebook.

Over the past week, Facebook has also lit up with military families offering to support fire departments and surrounding Central Texas communities victimized by the fires. They've collected and delivered bottled water, homemade meals, clothes and more.

Fort Hood and most of Texas remains in the D4 Exceptional drought category, and the drought is expected to persist or intensify, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. Because of the extreme fire danger, firefighting equipment and personnel remain on the scene.

Article by Christie Vanover, III Corps