texasmonthly.com: When did you first hear about the fire in Ringgold?
Katy Vine: I read about the Ringgold fire over the holidays. Because of the amount of devastation from wildfires that day, the event got a lot of coverage.
texasmonthly.com: What was your first thought when you arrived in Ringgold?
KV: I guess my first thought was, “Where does the ‘town’ begin?” A building here and a building there left no outline for the so-called “town of Ringgold.” I couldn’t imagine what the town had looked like until one of the firefighters, Larry Fenoglio, took me through the streets in his pickup and pointed to the bare spots of burned acreage where houses had stood.
texasmonthly.com: Were you prepared for the devastation?
KV: Newspapers prepared me for the devastation. However I did not understand how quickly it burned.
texasmonthly.com: How receptive were the residents?
KV: The residents of Ringgold were some of the kindest people I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting. And they were extremely patient with my questions. It can’t be a lot of fun to explain the history of each fire truck, but they indulged me to the end.
texasmonthly.com: What was the most difficult aspect of working on this story?
KV: Well, the loss. That’s the most difficult. No people died, thank goodness, but still it’s hard to hear stories of people losing their homes, their livestock, their pets. And they’re wondering if the town will ever recover.
texasmonthly.com: What was the most interesting thing you learned while working on this story?
KV: That fire analysis is totally fascinating. Joe Harris, a meteorologist from Fort Worth who worked in the Granbury command center January 1, told me a story about where the wind came from that day. Sound boring? It wasn’t. I could have listened to him and fire behavior analyst Keith Wooster all day.
texasmonthly.com: Was volunteer firefighter Billy Henley what you were expecting? Why or why not?
KV: Well, Henley was the first fire chief I ever met, so I don’t know what my expectations were. I don’t know that he liked the attention. He definitely tried to dilute his answers to questions that could have made him sound boastful—to a comical extent. I’d ask a question like, “How big was the fire at that point?” He’d chuckle and say, “Big.” Only when I pressed him would he tell me it was eighty to one hundred feet tall.