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River Chase Resident Saved Mom’s Home from Brush Fire

Brian Brantley hoses smoke and dirt from the skidsteer he used to cut fire breaks during last Saturday's 226-acre brush fire. A week later, he said he still can't get the smokey smell out of his CAT 262.

Brian Brantley glanced out the window of his River Chase subdivision home last Saturday and saw the grayish smoke of a brush fire blowing dangerously in the direction of his mother’s Royal Forest home.

Dressed in shorts and wearing Crocs sandals, he ran out of his house, jumped onto his CAT 262 skidsteer — like a bulldozer only with tires — and “hightailed it” to the corner of mom Becky Brantley’s property where he called 9-1-1. Canyon Lake Fire/EMS was en route.

Brantley, whose sister Stacey is married to Brad Brown, owner of Carpenter Hardware in Startzville, wasn’t taking any chances.

“Since I didn’t see or hear any firetrucks I knew I didn’t have much time because the pumphouse to my mom’s property is not too far from where the fence is,” he said.

The 226-acre brush fire between Purgatory and Wegner roads was spreading quickly, but Brantley was ready for it.

He studied fire science in college and has years of experience battling fires in Texas scrub. The Alpine native grew up on a ranch where “dry thunderstorms” illuminate night skies and torch the dry plains. As a young man, he even wanted to obtain bulldozer certification to fight fires —  but his family said no. Later, he worked on a 1,100-acre ranch in Smithson Valley for owner who was obsessed with brush fires and owned two fire trucks. Brantley became familiar with the mechanics of controlled burns that are designed to prevent brush fires. At his River Chase home, he has a 300-gallon water tank with a pump and a 50-foot firehose.

So as he approached Becky Brantley’s property that day, he knew exactly what to do. He cut the fence to access the powerline easement and started “working the fire,” bulldozing fire lines or breaks in the vegetation that made it harder for the fire to spread. He stripped the grass around a road to keep the fire from jumping over to three houses, then started working north until he hit a fence.

“I saw what was going to happen if I hadn’t done what I did,” Brantley said. “When it got to my parents’ house it was pretty much going to destroy everything.”

Brantley was working on building another fireline when a firefighter banged on his window and asked him to cut a firebreak up the road.

As firefighters from multiple jurisdictions continued to arrive on the scene, he helped them to navigate their way down circuitous roads to find gates so they wouldn’t have to cut fences.

“This fire was kind of unique because it wasn’t following a pattern,” he said. “It was mushrooming out, going in all different directions…this one was kind of like everywhere.

“You can build a fireline but it doesn’t take much for an ember to blow across a fireline and start other fires.”

Driving a skidsteer around flames is dangerous business because it can catch on fire, too.

“You kind of have to look at what you can do and what you can’t do,” he said. “You don’t want to go into tall flames. You want to get in front and cut the vegetation so it will fizzle out.”

When Becky Brantley arrived home she didn’t even realize there’d been a fire and wondered why her tired son was hanging out on her property — before she freaked out when she found out, he said.

Ironically, Brian Brantley, who now owns an oil-and-gas related business, had just returned from a trip to California, also ablaze with fires.

He was helping the man he bought his business from to pack up and move boxes and furniture out of a house that belonged to his son and daughter-in-law.

They perished along with 32 other people who burned to death in the California scuba-diving boat fire on Sept. 2.

Brantley helped bring their ashes back to Texas.


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