United Line Crew Assists Comanche Co-op
with Eastland Complex
Perhaps it was in the air. Like the faint smell of smoke.
Rygh Fullagar, the Stephenville line crew chief, had a feeling that he might be called out on a restoration before the week was up. He’d heard some headlines on TV about dry conditions, and maybe even caught a whiff of grass fire in the warm spring air earlier that week.
By Saturday, March 19, he and five other United linemen were on their way to Comanche Electric Cooperative Association to assist with restoration as the neighboring co-op dealt with the Eastland Complex and Ramsey wildfires tearing through its service territory. The crew would spend Saturday and Sunday repairing lines and replacing burned power poles.
The Eastland Complex wildfires dominated national headlines as it tore through towns and the countryside in Eastland County. The name described, at one point, up to seven fires responsible for burning more than 54,500 acres to date. Dry weather across Texas contributed to the fires’ growth, which eclipsed the devastating 2011 Bastrop Complex wildfire. It’s now being called one of the largest wildfires recorded in Texas history.
“The fire started on Thursday and had been going for a day and a half when they asked me if I wanted to go on the restoration,” Fullagar said. “I had a feeling something might happen beforehand, but you just never know. We worked the whole time, but it did give us some hope in the world, the way the world is now. There are still good people out there. People donated hay, food, clothes—there’s stuff going around out there for people who lost everything. It gives me hope that we’re not doomed yet.”
As Fullagar and the others traversed the countryside in search of their next repair, he said he was struck by how the wildfires had moved throughout the countryside. Some areas were burned down to the dirt while others were left completely untouched by the blaze.
“We’d be driving and seeing nothing, then one whole side of the county road was burned,” he said. “Then you’d see a field with 200 bales of hay in it, and it wasn’t touched. It was interesting to see how the wind moved the fire around. But once we got in there around Carbon, south of Eastland, the majority of that area down to Gorman was burned up pretty well.”
Thursday was the start of a long day for Maegan Caffey, the communications and public relations specialist for Comanche. She was on her way back home from an Operation Round Up meeting in Eastland when she got the call on the evening of March 17. That’s when she smelled the smoke and began getting the calls that the Eastland Complex fire had begun causing outages in her area.
“It was all hell breaking loose,” she said. “I got a call about the big outage in Carbon from the Eastland complex. About an hour or two later, we had the same issue in Rising Star and Blanket areas. It was just like that for the rest of the night. It was absolutely insane.”
The fires stopped about 2,000 of Comanche’s 17,600 meters at the height of the wildfires, she said. With the help of United and Hamilton Electric Cooperative, line crews replaced more than 200 power poles.
“I will honestly say we could never repay y’all for the help,” Caffey said. “I know our guys feel the same way. During this ordeal, I called the dispatcher to get an update, and she said ‘Maegan, we got help today. We got chills when we saw they came in today.’ We really appreciate it. I'm just really thankful everyone we know was OK. A lot of our linemen; their houses were in danger, so they had to go back and forth. I'm so glad they’re OK and safe, and their families are too.”