Johnson County

Dispatchers Warn Firefighters to Seek Shelter as Tornado Passes Near Johnson County Fire

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As flames ripped through a wood pallet facility Monday night, Johnson County fire crews were just getting to work tackling one disaster when dispatchers warned that a second was on the way.

“All units on the fire ground. We do have a large tornado. Try to take shelter immediately,” said dispatchers in recorded radio traffic released by Rendon Fire.

"Less than a minute after their radio of that, we started getting debris flying across the road,” said Rendon Fire Chief Dow Winkler.

Winkler said the next couple of minutes felt like an eternity as the truck he jumped into began to rock in the wind.

"We're firemen. We're not built to sit there and let things burn. We're built to go in and put them out, so it's hard to get firemen to sit still when there's an active fire going on. So that was a hard thing to do to have every officer of every apparatus get accountability of all of their personnel and make sure everyone's safe,” he said.

"We just made an announcement as we came down the street for all the civilians to seek shelter. There's a tornado,” said dispatchers.

Though they didn't take a direct hit, another nearby community did, which Winkler said strained resources. For the 15 departments that could respond, hail, a water shortage and high winds presented more challenges.

"I can say that's probably the first time I've been that close to a tornado on a working fire,” said Winkler.

But what he’ll remember, is that at the end of the day, everyone went home safe.

"I would be happy to go another 35 years and not have it happen again,” he said.

That fire is believed to have been started by lightning.

Though people living in nearby homes were forced to evacuate, no other structures were damaged.

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