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Courage Under Fire

Possum Kingdom volunteer firefighters race to save homes and lives while putting theirs on the line

When they tromped the gas pedals and aimed their fire trucks at the wall of flames, that’s when things shifted into playing-for-keeps mode.

Members of the Possum Kingdom East Volunteer Fire Department were already in a desperate fight with an out-of-control blaze they knew they couldn’t stop. But Eddie Shelton and his fellow firefighters weren’t expecting anything like this.

As one of the first two units responding to the 101 Ranch Fire that broke out in the Possum Kingdom Reservoir area on August 30 (an earlier fire in April also ravaged the area), Shelton and his work partner, Craig Hutson, had already chased the fast-moving fire for two miles. Now it had leapt Texas Highway 16 and roared right into the very entrance of what was then still The Cliffs Resort residential development, a gated, residential community. With the entranceway security booth ablaze and the sales office gutted, the fire was, horrifyingly, rampaging toward the heart of the subdivision.

And as fate would have it, the fire was headed right for Shelton’s house.

“So we went down that street, which was Cypress Point [a cul-de-sac],” Shelton said. “We went in there to set up a defensive line, but when we were down in there, the fire was running so fast that all we could do was evacuate ourselves for safety.”

Hutson, who was in the truck that Shelton was driving, said the blaze was bearing down on their position; in the short time they had been in the cul-de-sac, a wall of fire some 30 or 40 feet high had blocked the only way out. Blowing embers from the moving fire had swept across the street.

So the big truck—a fire engine driven by Kowa Crow—ran the gauntlet, with Shelton and Hutson in the smaller truck coming behind. After Shelton cleared the wall of flames, someone yelled out that their truck was on fire.

That fire was extinguished and, though it melted some parts under the hood, the truck was still drivable.

This was at 4 p.m. They’d still be fighting fires into the wee hours of the morning. Shelton refused to stop, though his home and everything in it were lost.

“He was a hero in my book,” Hutson said. “We saved two or three other houses that day. Later that night, as we were driving around, he said to me, ‘I just realized that I don’t have a change of clothes.’ ”

Describing Shelton as “a special guy,” Hutson added that “everyone I have been fortunate to work with at Possum Kingdom has been equally dedicated.”

Shelton, who was elected captain of the Possum Kingdom East Volunteer Fire Department during the month following the fire, said: “A lot of the outside agencies that came in to help us were city agencies, and were paid, but the majority in these more rural areas are volunteer.”

Shelton continued. “One thing about living out here, this community really comes together,” he said. “They are very supportive. They were bringing us food, drinks, and [supplies] to the fire station to help support us. I’m proud to be associated with this group of firefighters and the EMS personnel out here.”