The Nueces County Commissioners Court voted Friday to extend its disaster declaration in response to the fires in the region and across the state.
Commissioners disagreed over when the declaration should expire but ultimately voted to extend it to Sunday.
Precinct 4 commissioner Brent Chesney and Precinct 1 commissioner Robert Hernandez said the declaration may not be needed, only agreeing to extend it through the weekend in line with a Friday National Weather Service Corpus Christi warning.
The extension comes as the weather service issued a fire weather watch through Saturday, citing strong southerly winds coupled with the low humidity of 15-35% for all of South Texas.
Texas Department of Emergency Management Regional Section Chief John O’Valle said over 70 counties have submitted similar declarations. He said fire conditions across the state have worsened, and at least one death — a sheriff’s deputy aiding evacuation efforts in Eastland County — has been attributed to the fires.
Nueces County Judge Barbara Canales motioned to extend the disaster to Wednesday. However, that motion did not have enough votes to pass.
The declaration would be critical to recouping funds spent should any mutual aid be provided by Nueces County to fight fires in the region, Canales said.
“I’m terribly disappointed in this court that they don’t seem to want to stand with our partners, and I’m certain that this is going to be a very bad precedent for us,” Canales said.
Precinct 3 commissioner John Marez backed Canales’ motion while Chesney and Hernandez were in opposition. Precinct 2 commissioner Joe A. Gonzalez was not in attendance.
Chesney said he had yet to see how Nueces County’s experience so far with fires was different from previous years.
In Nueces County, Emergency Management Coordinator Louie M. Ray Jr. said about 50 acres of land have been affected by fires in recent weeks. In late March, the Pintas Creek Fire south of Robstown affected about 25 acres and damaged eight structures.
While the Pintas Creek Fire was devastating, Chesney said, it was not comparable to the Borrega Fire in Kleberg County.
“I’m real nervous about setting the precedent on how we set these disasters when there is not really one, in my opinion,” Chesney said. “We’d be setting 10 of these a year.”
Ray said all fire response entities in the county have been submitting cost estimates — both relating to responding to fires in the county and in the region — to his office.
Those fire services have cost the county about $179,000 as of last week. He said it would be possible, as a result of the disaster declaration, to partially or fully recuperate those costs.
Some of that cost came from sending mutual aid to the Borrega Fire, which began the evening of March 30 at the Santa Gertrudis Division of the 825,000-acre King Ranch.
The Borrega Fire was fully extinguished as of Thursday evening, according to the Texas A&M Forest Service. Approximately 51,566 acres were affected.
Wildfires across Texas can be viewed at public.tfswildfires.com.
Chase Rogers covers local government and industry in South Texas. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @chasedrogers. You can support local journalism with a subscription to the Caller-Times.