Fires Raise Stakes for Rural Counties

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Officials in Robertson County say they may never know the cause of Saturday's massive fire that swept across upwards of one thousand acres.

Their investigation continues, but with each passing day, more dollars are spent on this costly drought. For rural counties like Robertson, they are pennies they'd rather not pinch.

Saturday's fire near Blackjack came mere hours after County Judge Fred Elliott issued a disaster declaration for Robertson County. As many of the county's eight volunteer departments reacted to the flames fanned by fast winds, Judge Elliott's words written to Governor Perry proved powerful. He wrote that an effective response could be beyond their capability to recover without state or federal assistance.

"The amount that's going off, sometimes three or four at once, makes it pretty difficult," Elliott said.

For local officials, it's a balancing act. They can't devote all their fire resources to one burn. In fact, the now-infamous fire that destroyed hundreds of acres was one of two Robertson County authorities were working at once.

"If we have got a tremendous amount of fires here and there's a state declaration, hopefully we can recoup some of the costs we've spent," said Jerry Henry, the county's emergency management coordinator.

It's also a balancing act on the state level. Obviously, Robertson County isn't the only dry area, and it's not the only one asking for state and federal aid. They know the money is thin, but they also hope they get at least a small piece of the pie so their dry land doesn't become more burnt land.

"We are still limited," said Elliott, "not by equipment we've got, but the amount we're having to fight."

And that need for balance extends to their costs. While the equipment is adequate, it does break down. Fuel costs remain high. Balancing the checkbook is now the task Judge Elliott has charged officials with.

"He asked that we start putting together a report form so we can keep track of these things," said Henry. "We're in the process of doing that now."

But as the days pass, achieving balance becomes more and more difficult for rural counties teetering on the brink.

Robertson County authorities are also looking into the possibility of some area fires being arson. While they wouldn't elaborate on the exact details, officials say they have reasonable suspicions concerning the frequency and location of the fires.