Fire threatens homes, scorches land
By LPR Staff
What started as a controlled burn spelled disaster for a Caldwell County couple and their pets on Friday morning.
Curtis and Frankie Pilgrim, longtime residents of the “Mid-County” area, lost their home and as many as 12 pet dogs when a grass fire erupted on their property on FM 671 south of Lockhart on Friday.
ording to officials at the scene, Curtis Pilgrim lit a controlled fire on his property on Friday morning. Stiff breezes accompanying the weekend”s cold front soon sent the fire into the high grasses on Pilgrim”s property, sparking a blaze that charred more than 30 acres on Friday morning.
Pilgrim, who said he raises and trains German shepherds as search-and-rescue and drug-seeking dogs, attempted to free several dogs in an outdoor kennel after the fire broke out, sustaining burns to his right arm. His wife, Frankie, who was inside their home with several other dogs, attempted to save the dogs inside the home before firefighters forced her outside and to safety.
“Have you ever heard your pets crying for you and you can”t do anything for them,” a distraught Pilgrim said at the scene. Caught between a rock and a hard place, Pilgrim instructed firefighters not to try to free his dogs, for fear they would attack strangers on the property.
Frankie Pilgrim, after being removed from the single-wide manufactured home, was transported to Seton – Edgar B. Davis hospital in Luling for treatment of minor injuries. She was released later on Friday.
Although the Pilgrims” home did not actually burn in the blaze, the electrical and plumbing fixtures under the manufactured home were destroyed as the fire passed under the structure. As the flames continued on their journey northward and westward, they threatened another home near the Pilgrims” property. However, volunteer firefighters were able to keep the fire from overtaking, or even damaging, the home.
Fire Marshal Jeff Wright called in every resource available, including volunteer fire departments from surrounding communities, the Texas Forest Service out of Bastrop, and StarFlight from Austin, to help fight the fire.
Departments from Hays, Travis and Bastrop Counties stood sentry as all of Caldwell County”s fire protection descended on the Pilgrims” property.
“We”ve got all of our resources here,” Wright said on the scene. “Hays County is on standby if something breaks out in the western part of the county, and Bastrop and Travis counties are pitching in, too.”
Because of the fire”s location, paid firefighters from Lockhart and Luling could not respond. Still, every volunteer department was on scene as the fire chewed through acres and acres of thick brush and high grass.
The Caldwell County Medic-Assist Team sent a volunteer with an ambulance to help with rehabilitation of firefighters struggling with dehydration and heat exhaustion, and the American Red Cross sent a team to see after the Pilgrims, offering them shelter after their electrical and plumbing services were destroyed by the fire.
As a StarFlight helicopter hovered overhead, the a bulldozer crew from the Texas Forest Service cut a path around the wildfire in an attempt to provide access to the brush trucks standing by at the scene. However, as the fire raged northward, it collided with a creek bed, which slowed its process and allowed fire teams to get ahead of the blaze before it did still more damage.
Nothing could be done, though, for the dogs that were housed in the outdoor kennel. Most died of smoke inhalation long before the flames ever reached the kennel, which was burned to cinders in a matter of moments.
As early as Friday afternoon, neighbors rallied around the Pilgrims, offering everything from food for the couple to shelter for the surviving dogs. The couple declined to leave the surviving pets either alone or with neighbors, because they feared the animals” training might lead them to attack. Instead, they stayed in the home, without electricity or plumbing. A local lumber company sent a crew to board up the Pilgrims” windows against the cold.
“They know they can”t stay there for long,” said neighbor Cynthia “Sissy” Buxkemper. “All of the wires were destroyed and they can”t get their power turned back on, and they don”t have any plumbing, because it all melted. But they”re worried about the dogs and they just don”t know what to do.”
Buxkemper and several other neighbors opened a fund for the Pilgrims at Randolph-Brooks Federal Credit Union.