TCU students from Possum Kingdom Lake react to wildfires

A wildfire near Possum Kingdom Lake in Palo Pinto County has destroyed 30 homes and 5,130 acres of land. Over 100 more homes were still in danger, Palo Pinto County Sheriff Ira Mercer said in a press conference Wednesday afternoon.

For some TCU students from the area, the news of the widespread fire came from a call from their parents or from their friends on Facebook.

TCU graduate student Travis McCracken became aware of what was going on in his community by witnessing it with his own eyes.

“It’s such a small area, a lot of it was word-of-mouth but the fact that you can just see the smoke is pretty scary,” McCracken said. “I was driving around a couple of times around the west side of [Possum Kingdom] and you can just see where everything’s been burned and where they put the fires out. You can just see this one house and it’s like ‘Man, I can’t even imagine being those people.’”

Beginning Tuesday night, 150 residents of The Cliffs neighborhood were evacuated, as well as areas along the Brazos River. Children participating at the nearby YMCA camp Brady Spruce were also evacuated, according to a WFAA report. 

The wildfire comes on the heels a similar fire that burned through Possum Kingdom last April, destroying 160 homes. The new fire is slower-moving than the one in April, Mercer said, but it has still managed to destroy the remaining area of Gaines Bend that had previously survived.

Firefighters continued to put out hot spots in Gaines Bend and The Cliffs, but some areas were still too hot for the crews to enter.

According to the Star-Telegram, over 200 firefighters and a task force sent in from the U.S. Forest Service have been fighting the fires. Two tanker planes dropped fire retardant over the area on Wednesday morning, and a DC-10 tanker from California is on standby.

Junior psychology major Lacey Lovern said that she has been going to Possum Kingdom with her family and friends since she was 4 years old.

“We go to Hell’s Gate, which is like a hollow where all of these homes are built; homes that have been there for as long as I can remember,” Lovern said. “To know that they’re burned down and to know that we have family friends that have their houses in danger, it’s just really heartbreaking.”
According to WFAA, the American Red Cross has set up a shelter at the First Baptist Church in Palo Pinto.

Junior strategic communication major Eli Acker said that his hometown of Mineral Wells was pulling together despite the damage.

“Even in the summer I was just driving through town and would see billboards for restaurants that would say like ‘Pray for our firefighters’ or ‘Thank you firefighters,’” Acker said. “It’s kind of sad to think of it this way, but it’s kind of brought the community together in a lot of ways, and I feel like it’s given us a sense of community,”