ZAVALLA -- Smoke billowed as flames twisted the gray metal of the Zavalla Volunteer Fire Department's fire station early Monday afternoon. As the red fire and rescue trucks went up in flames, dazed and shocked firefighters of the Zavalla Fire Department watched fellow firefighters smother the angry blaze.
"It goes to show (the fire department) is not exempt," said Chris Wade of the Zavalla Volunteer Fire Department. He said he did not know how the fire started.
About 40 Angelina County firefighters helped contain a fire that destroyed Zavalla VFD's fire station, and three fire trucks, on Monday afternoon.
No injuries were reported.
Three fire department vehicles - a 2000-model fire engine, a 2003-model rescue truck and a 2000-model brush fire truck - were destroyed. A 2004-model tanker truck that was parked outside survived.
The tanker truck could carry 1,000 gallons of water, and the brush truck could carry 350 gallons of water, said Bobby Epperly, Zavalla police chief.
Counting equipment and trucks together, damage was estimated at about $500,000, officials said.
Around noon Monday, a man who was passing by the fire department saw smoke billowing from under the roof, said one of the neighbors who lives nearby. The man called 911 and within five minutes the assistant fire chief, Richard Brunk, arrived at the scene, she said.
"Richard wanted to go in there and get the trucks," she said. "But the smoke would have killed him before the fire. He tried, though ...," she said as she sat watching firefighters battle the occasional flame that burst from the glowing pile of ashes.
As the first fire trucks arrived, Brunk and other firefighters took a chain saw and cut through the roll-up door of the fire department, she said. "But the grill had melted and the ceiling was caving in."
Loud booms were heard as the oxygen cylinders and gas in the fire trucks went up in flames, she said.
John Cheney, a firefighter from the Ora Volunteer Fire Department, was the third to arrive on the scene and said he could see the smoke from about eight miles away. "There were flames from underneath the roof and doors when I got here."
Recent rains had caused a small fire in the back wall because of flooding, she said. "Brunk was concerned about it and had already told the city council," she said.
The building was constructed in 1979-80 and measured 80 feet by 60 feet, Epperly said.
A small brush fire was caused from the building flames, but was put out before it spread, Wade said.
Both Wade and Epperly said they had never before seen or heard of a fire department going up in flames.
Fifteen volunteer firefighters work for the Zavalla department.
About 40 firefighters from Central, Hudson, Ora, Fuller Springs, Moffett and Huntington as well as two additional VFDs from Nacogdoches County aided the Zavalla department in fighting the fire. Firefighters used the 2004-model surviving fire truck and another older fire truck that had recently been retired to fight the inferno.
While the fire trucks were insured, Wade said, it was not enough to cover the damage that occurred.
"We'll regroup ... and see what to do next," he said.