Health & Environment

Texas A&M Forest Service Saves Historic Home From McDaniel Fire

Crews helped contain the more than 4,000-acre fire near San Angelo in six days.
By Leighton Chachere, Texas A&M Forest Service June 26, 2020

aerial view of a histori chome on a ranch
The Texas A&M Forest Service helped save the historic structures of Millican Ranch from the McDaniel Fire near San Angelo.

Cody Lambert/Texas A&M Forest Service


The Texas A&M Forest Service recently answered the call when the McDaniel Fire near San Angelo threatened to claim a historic ranch and its 100-year history.

On June 13, Texas A&M Forest Service responded to assist with fighting the McDaniel Fire in Coke County, northwest of San Angelo. Extreme fire behavior — including multiple days with short crown runs and short-range spotting — coupled with topography challenges, wildland urban-interface and the remote location made the fire a challenge to contain and control.

The fire quickly claimed one vehicle and one utility terrain vehicle and threatened 12 structures. Among the threatened structures was a county staple, the original headquarters of the Millican Ranch — including the house, garage, barn and working pens.

Historic structures of Millican Ranch

“It was my grandparents’ old house where my daddy was born and raised,” said Tom Millican, owner of Millican Ranch. “My grandad was born in 1870, and his family moved out here in the late 1890s.”

Millican’s grandfather married in 1906, and in 1909 built a homestead for his family on the ranch. Each of his children were born and raised in the house. Though unoccupied today, the structures have obvious historic and sentimental value to the family and community.

“Of course, the house has significant historical value, but you can tell how old the structure is because of the garage,” said Coke County Judge Hal Spain. “The garage facility for their first vehicle was structured for a Model A Ford, and since that time it’s been added on to twice to accommodate larger vehicles.”

According to Spain, the Millican family have been long-time community members in the city of Robert Lee. Once settled on the ranch, the family raised mules and cattle and in the 1920s began raising sheep and goats. Today, the two-section ranch raises commercial Angus cattle, and the original working pens and barn are still used.

Protecting history

Ten Texas A&M Forest Service members created defensible space around the structures, removing all flammable vegetation around them, such as brushes and trees.

“The fire was up on the ridge above the structure,” said McDaniel Fire incident commander Cody Lambert. “It was about a quarter of a mile away. We put some grader lines behind the house at the base of the ridge and did the structure protection.”

Defensible spaces span at least 30 feet, providing a barrier between the structure and wildfire.

“There was a lot of brush around the structure, really thick, it took us around two to three hours to complete the fire break,” Lambert said. “Once the fire break was completed, there was an engine sitting at the house around the clock until we were done with the fire.”

In addition to building the fire break around the ranch structures, crew members helped the family evacuate their cattle too.

“The forest service was very helpful,” Millican said. “They helped us haul a bunch of saddles out of the barn and load some cows that needed to be moved because of the fire.”

The crews also completed fire breaks around other structures threatened by the wildfire. Considering structure location and vulnerability, the crews worked non-stop on structure preparation until they were defendable.

Texas A&M Forest Service crews, in unified command with the Robert Lee Fire Department, contained the 4,216-acre fire in six days. The McDaniel Fire claimed a hunting ranch, part-time residence and some heavy equipment.

“All the historical structures were saved by TFS and fire personnel,” Spain said. “We had no occupied structure that was consumed by the fire.”

The Millican family was thankful the only wildfire damage the ranch suffered was 400 acres of burned grass and wooden fence posts.

As wildfire season continues, Texas A&M Forest Service urges Texans to contact local authorities immediately if a wildfire is spotted. A quick response can help save lives and property.

This article by Leighton Chachere originally appeared on AgriLife Today.

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