Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Wildfires Wreak Havoc

There have been three fires burning in our area of Far West Texas: the Rock House fire, a new fire that allegedly started behind a restaurant in Fort Davis, and another new fire on the Shurley Ranch south of Marfa.

Rock House Burnt.jpgThe infamous Rock House, 26 miles west of Marfa, Texas, after burning to the ground and setting off the eponymous wildfire.

The Rock House Fire started on April 9th, 26 miles west of Marfa and has thus far consumed well over 275,000 acres.  The fire is considered 66% contained according to KRTS and CBS7 reports that firefighters are staying clear of the head of the fire where winds and plentiful dry fuel endanger the lives of volunteers.  The high winds in West Texas are also pushing the fires within 8 miles of the town of Balmorhea, which has issued a voluntary evacuation and set up an emergency center in town.

Rock House Cattle.jpgCattle threatened by the spreading fires.  Some ranchers have lost countless horses, cattle, and up to 100% of their grazing land, which will take 8-12 months to restore.

Rock House Map 2.jpgA recent map of the area burned in the Rock House fire. Click for larger image.

The Fort Davis Motor Lodge/Poco Mexico restaurant fire started yesterday, April 26th, in the town of Fort Davis.  The Fort Davis and Alpine Volunteer Fire Departments were called to the scene and immediately began working to control and impede the spread of that fire.

Ft Davis Hwy 17.jpgSmoke over the town of Fort Davis, indicating a new fire in West Texas.

Hwy 17.jpgSmoke darkens the sky and reduces visibility along Hwy 17 near Fort Davis, Texas.

According to KRTS, this fire was successfully extinguished around 3:30 this morning despite the extremely high winds which hampered other firefighting efforts in West Texas.

Also reported yesterday was the fire on the Shurley Ranch which lies about 20 miles south of Marfa, Texas.  Specific information on this fire is still scarce, but the most up to date info can be found on the KRTS website when it becomes available.

The most danger is posed by the Rock House fire, which has been thwarting firefighters for over two weeks and continues to threaten wildlife, their habitat, ranchers, their livelihood, as well as towns and residences throughout the Davis Mountains region.

mcdonald-observatory-wildfires-110419.jpgFires surround the world-famous McDonald Observatory in Fort Davis, Texas on April 19th, 2011.

The McDonald Observatory in Fort Davis has ceased tourist activities and
become a sort of crisis headquarters, with a briefing last night open
to public and the press about the fire status.

There are also reports of fires burning in the Midland/Odessa area, which is home to thousands of oil wells and associated infrastructure.

With so many fires running rampant and the region's limited resources stretched thin across so many hundreds of thousands of acres, residents are beginning to wonder if and when FEMA will step in and lend a hand to West Texas.

Friday, April 22, 2011


120 volt Ceiling FanWe painted our ceiling and mounted a ceiling fan. We purchased a medium efficiency model, which uses on low use ~10 watts on high uses ~50 watts. Very happy with our fan addition, it adds a little style and function to our home. For a ceiling fan we strongly considered a 12VDC unit, but we were disappointed at the high price tags, lack of lighting, and overall unattractive look. We will do a homemade DC fan DIY in the future.

At this point it seemed a good time to install the true sign wave Xantrex. Thank you, Lee.  After installing it, all of our electrical devices were instantly happier to run on the correct wave form, versus our old, cheaper square-wave unit. With true sine wave we don't get the excessive buzzing and heat from motors and transformers. Overall our devices run more efficiently and will last longer.

IMG_4811.JPGWe are wrapping up our interior, and our walls are almost done being
painted. So at this point we are able to finalize some interior designs
and we are putting a lot of thought into planning our shelves and
cabinets.  In a 300 square foot home layout and storage space is crucial.

We are also working hard on various clients' solar needs. One in particular has an interesting install which calls for 10 pole mounts of PV modules for a total 8kW of PV cells. We are fabricating the mounting structure in-house, with our own engineering. This job also will give us the opportunity to upgrade our welder.

And some things we did in the past month not yet mentioned:

IMG_4641.JPGOur workshop/shed. Not bad for ~$500 including the slab. Very happy with this addition, and it's holding us over until the real shop is built.8X16' Works shop Shed
Big Bend Telecommunications got our circuit board upgrade completed, so now our phone and internet is running direct on 12 volts. At the same time, we also moved the dish to a friendlier location (not pointing at our heads).

BBT TeamBBT Dish


Thursday, April 14, 2011


you are probably all aware, there have been some serious wildfires in
West Texas. The Fort Davis/Marfa fire has consumed 166,00 acres and is
60% contained, according to KRTS as of yesterday.  Because of the
extended drought and the rampant fires up north, many people have
started clearing the brush around their homes in hopes of creating a
protective firebreak. There is still no sign of rain for months.

spent a week in Southern California visiting my sister and her family.
While she was gone, my friend Arick and I took a big step toward
finishing the house: installing our drywall. The drywall turned out
great and definitely sharpened my skills.  It took about 1100 pounds of
the stuff to cover the main portion of our home.

would also like to give a huge thanks to Lee Allen (Sara's dad) for
donating some very useful equipment to our system: five 85 watt solar
modules, a pure sine wave inverter, a MPPT charge controller, and a
powerful notebook computer.  We will be posting some stats on these
components as we use and learn about them in the upcoming weeks.

power system has been operating from a sort of a quick-and-dirty
initial setup, but now we are overhauling everything and we want to do
the best possible job; a model installation we can be proud of.  We
initially bought three 85W panels to add to our system, and then when my
Dad picked them up from the warehouse in Miami he surprised us with a
gift of three more.  With these six panels and the five from Sara's dad
added to our two 130W monos and one Harbor Freight unit, we will now
have over a kilowatt of PV modules.  The planned overhaul also includes
relocating the batteries and control/distribution system into a
ferro-concrete utility room that is separate from the house.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Green Scene

Green Scene
Saturday was the third annual Green Scene, a gathering at the Terlingua community garden
for like-minded people in the environmental fields. The event featured
live music, vendors, and demonstrations on rainwater collection,
gray-water uses, ferro-concrete and so on. We had been contacted several
weeks ago and asked if we could power the band with renewable energy.  Of course we gladly
said yes.

So we set up a simple 250 watt solar array with 3 AGM batteries and
-- most importantly -- a pure sine wave inverter borrowed from Phil and Regina. Our simple system proved more than adequate. Sara, Arick and I had a
wonderful day at the event and can't wait until it comes around again next year. The event is
always held on the first Saturday in April.

Green Scene Band

other news my parents recently acquired a 122 acre property with an
older adobe house needing some TLC, and most surprising a well
with good, tasty water. Very nice property, good for almost anything and
interestingly enough less than a mile from our current house.  So Mom
and Dad are out visiting us and learning the ropes of west TX.

Until next time....