Suburban Grass Fire Nears School, Church


Close-up of the scorched ground near the abbey property. | Image by Our Lady of Dallas Cistercian Abbey.

Wildfires continue to be a common occurrence, burning nearly everything in their paths. At Our Lady of Dallas Cistercian Abbey, the monks’ prayers were answered when a fire bypassed their sanctuary.

Recently, Irving Fire Department responded to a fire that was burning land owned by a Roman Catholic abbey.

The fire began in the midafternoon in early August on land adjacent to the Irving abbey and school, said the monks. The monks run Cistercian Preparatory School, an all-male school educating students from the fifth through the twelfth grades.

Father Paul McCormick, the Prior at the Abbey, received a call at about 3 pm but did not answer because a conference was just beginning. He received another call at about 3:30 when the groundsman told him that the fire department was there and putting out a grass fire, said McCormick.

Other monks report seeing large plumes of black smoke around the same time, some going to the roof to get a better view. Father Thomas Esposito said that it was an “exotic way to spend a retreat.”

According to the report from Irving Fire Department obtained by The Dallas Express, the fire had started on an open field on the corner of State Highway 114 and Tom Braniff Drive, adjacent to the abbey property, before moving to a wooded area owned by the abbey and catching on some of the trees.

The open grassy land where it initially started is owned by the University of Dallas (UD), another Catholic school. UD’s main campus is on the other side of SH114 from the burnt area.

First responders arrived on the scene just before 3:30 pm and fought the blaze until after 11 pm. They suppressed the fire, but lingering portions remained.

“Yeah, we were watching that for three days,” said Chief Russ Green of the UD Police Department. “The fire posed no danger to anyone, but it’s common practice to monitor.”

At its largest, the fire reached 25 acres, burning both grass and adjacent wooded areas.

There were no deaths, though one member of the fire service responding suffered injuries. The report also indicated that there were no monetary damages.

However, Fr. Esposito said, “It was more than just a grass fire, it also damaged the stations of the cross trail.”

The stations of the cross are a devotional series of tableaux by which those praying commemorate the sufferings and death of Christ.

After an investigation, the fire department did not determine the cause of the blaze or the heat source that ignited it. The report said that the fire began in the lightly vegetated field before spreading.

Because of dangerous conditions, Dallas County, like much of Texas, is under a burn ban. Violating a burn ban is a class C misdemeanor and punishable by a fine not to exceed $500.

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