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Sheriff Was Ready to Evacuate Jail During Wildfire

"They made buses available to me if I needed them. The bottom line is the folks in my facility, regardless of what they're accused of doing or not doing, they are in my care."

Row or jail cells in black and white.
(TNS) — An ongoing wildfire amid moderate drought across Palo Pinto County prompted several actions by county commissioners on Monday, with Sheriff Brett McGuire revealing he'd called the state prison system for buses in case the Dempsey Fire threatened his lockup.

"There was that potential that the heel of the fire would become the head of the fire," the sheriff said. "That would push it toward Palo Pinto and my facility."

Winds that had been south southwesterly going into the weekend had turned south southeasterly, east and east northeasterly, he said, and were pushing a splinter fire his direction.

McGuire did not have to evacuate the jail, which on Monday morning had 100 inmates with a 30-day average of 101. But he told commissioners he'd called the Institutional Division of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice about sending prison buses should he need to evacuate.

He added that his Plan B had been calling local school districts.

"They made buses available to me if I needed them," he said. "I hope we're not going to need it. But I still have everybody up in a little bit higher awareness, but we're ready to go. The bottom line is the folks in my facility, regardless of what they're accused of doing or not doing, they are in my care," he said.

The sheriff's report followed that of Emergency Management Coordinator Mistie Garland , who said the Dempsey Fire had burned 11,598 acres and was 20 percent contained as of that morning.

She praised neighboring fire crews helping local firefighters, from Parker, Erath, Montague, Young, Jack and other counties.

She also said Mineral Wells civic leader Cody Jordan is helping find lodging for displaced residents.

"There's still going to be a long road ahead of us," she concluded.

The court also took no action on the county's fire ban, which remains in force.

Garland also had reported lightning sparked a house fire in Mineral Wells during the weekend.

A public comment, asking commissioners to consider banning fireworks during the upcoming July 4 weekend, drew County Judge Shane Long out of his elected role to make his own public comment. The court cannot directly reply to speakers during the public comments period, so Long took to the gallery podium saying he'd reply as a county resident.

"We have 60 hours that (the firework ban is) in effect," Long said, explaining the county would have to ask the governor's office for any extension. "If we do that today, and in 60 hours it expires, we lose the effect on the Fourth weekend.

"I don't want it to appear that this commissioners court is not concerned, by not taking action today."

Chief Kevin Starbuck, of Texas EMS, followed Garland in speaking to the court, echoing Long's description of the state fireworks ban statute.

"We are working with a lot of counties across the state of Texas," he told the court.

In non fire-related action, the court on Monday also:

—Authorized $30,000 for McGuire's fuel budget in response to gas prices far beyond their mark when commissioners wrote the budget last summer.

The action also released "up to $3,000" apiece to the constables in Precincts 1, 2 and 4 for fuel.

—Learned of road closures for repairs. Precinct 4 Commissioner Jeff Fryer said Live Oak Road will close July 5-8 , but he added his crews probably won't need that much time.

"It should take about a day and then open back up to the public," he said.

And Precinct 2 Commissioner Mike Reed said his crew will be grinding Grantham Road to rebuild it.

"The road's is not closed, it's just been temporarily shut down," he said. "We should be through by July 29 .

—Learned the county's information technology contractor is ready to install 24 desktop computers the court bought earlier this spring. Another 20 computers are scheduled for replacement next year.

They are six to 12 years old, Computer Transition Service Inc. consultant Ray Bertrand said.

"We're going to have two folks here (Tuesday) ," he said. "I would say, another month to get these totally knocked out. And then we'll look at the (Mineral Wells Annex)."

—Heard from Public Works Director David McDonald he'd processed 26 septic system permits during May.

"Of the 26, 22 of them were (for) new construction," he said, adding he's on track to issue more than 100 permits this year. "So, we're at a record pace, probably till the end of this year."

—Approved employee health insurance renewal, the cost of which rose 12.74 percent over this year's coverage. The court approved the expense but decided against including a 1 percent cost of living increase for employees.

—Agreed on the structure of the county's salary grievance committee. The committee was not selected, but Long said the court must decide on whether to name nine members of the public or three residents and six elected officials.

The court decided on the latter.

—Set a minimum bid of $500 for an abandoned county structure immediately west of the courthouse. Known as the Old Cafe, bids will be accepted July 5 through July 19.

The court plans to remove the building but maintain ownership of the land.

©2022 Weatherford Democrat (Weatherford, Texas), Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.