Derrick Holdstock’s position as Texas Parks and Wildlife’s Regional Fire Management Coordinator is a unique one. He doesn’t just fight fires—he starts them.
Those planned and intentionally-set fires are called prescribed burns, and have been widely adopted as a beneficial tool for ecosystem management and the reduction of wildfire risks across the country. But for many Hemphill County landowners, the promised benefits are far outweighed by the well-known risks.
The fire on the Gene Howe Wildlife Management Area (WMA) that Holdstock managed in March 2008 was a prescribed burn gone bad. It escaped the control of the burn team, damaging not only about 5,000 acres of both publicly- and privately-owned land along Lake Marvin Road, but also doing great harm to the trust between local landowners and TPWD.
That experience still stings today. And when TPWD announced its intention—for the first time since that disastrous incident—to execute another prescribed burn of 164 acres in the northern hay meadow pasture at Gene Howe WMA, the news was met by local landowners and others with suspicion and distrust.
Knowing that his agency’s reputation—and his own—had been damaged, and that local residents might be skeptical of the new plan, Holdstock sat down with The Record to talk about what has changed in the intervening eight years, and to accept responsibility for what went wrong.