While some households in McLennan County remained without power for a fourth day Thursday, the dedicated volunteers of the Waco Navy were braving the elements to deliver free firewood to those in need.
The number of homes with no power diminished about 11 a.m. Thursday when power was restored to many homes in northwest Waco. But there were still neighborhood pockets and about 3,500 households in McLennan County with no power as of Thursday evening.
The grid operator, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, announced by Thursday morning it had stopped requiring controlled outages to prevent damage to the grid. At that point, remaining outages were generally related to distribution infrastructure. However, ERCOT warned, “It is possible that some level of rotating outages may be needed over the next couple of days to keep the grid stable.”
For Ramon Lavado, his wife and 6-year-old daughter, four days without power at their home on Cold Water Drive off Bagby Avenue was enough. They found a hotel with a vacancy and were checking in Thursday afternoon. Lavado, an environmental science assistant professor at Baylor University, said his home is fairly energy-efficient and got down to about 58 degrees inside, but he and his family made the decision to seek shelter in a motel after four days.
As Lavado and his family were loading up to leave, a Waco Fire Department truck came down the street to check on a neighbor’s carbon monoxide alarm going off.
Across the street, Joey Hoskins, and her husband, Kevin, came out to greet Jeremy Echols, commander of the Waco Navy, who answered their call in his four-wheel-drive pickup for home-delivered free firewood.
“He’s an angel,” Joey Hoskins said as she met Echols in her driveway and embraced him warmly.
The Hoskins and their two dogs have been sleeping on the floor in front of the fireplace but ran out of firewood and started burning clothing, Joey Hoskins said.
Her neighbor, whom she described as a “master griller,” shared some wood with them but he started running low, too, she said.
Echols and his Waco Navy crew members, including Grant Turnbow, Paul Cavezza, Lucas Wright, Bryan Gray and Robert Barben, posted a notice on social media Tuesday afternoon that they would deliver firewood to people in need. They were quickly swamped with cries for help.
Echols said he and the others had delivered wood to about 40 homes in the past 2½ days while trying to weed out people with power who just wanted to know how much they were charging to deliver wood to their homes.
“We are not selling firewood,” Echols said. “We are just trying to help people who are stranded without power and who need our help. We weren’t really going to get started until Wednesday morning, but we started getting people begging us to help and I felt so guilty sitting there in my nice warm house that I got out Tuesday night and worked until about midnight.”
Echols, a fourth-year veterinarian student at Texas A&M University, actually went into several homes belonging to elderly women who live alone to start the fire for them, he said. At least two of the women did not know how to build a fire, had nothing to start a fire with and were not sure how to keep a fire going, he said. One woman also was burning her clothing, he said.
The group passed out about four cords of wood on Wednesday and Thursday, with wood donations from people aware of their charitable quest, including Phillip Helberg and Markham Dossett.
“It’s nice to know we were able to help a lot of people in need,” Echols said. “A few of these ladies were in tears when we left they were so grateful.”
The Waco Navy gets its name because the group of volunteers — many of whom have military experience but all who are thrill seekers — organized in August 2017 as a way of lending a hand while Hurricane Harvey pummeled southeast Texas.
The group of friends loaded up their boats and caravanned to the Houston area, where they performed a multitude of swift-water rescues, saving people and their pets from rising flood waters.
While they were there, they organized donation efforts for money, supplies and food to assist those affected by the storm.
“I’m kind of an adventure hound,” Echols said. “So if there is an adventure to be had, I’ll be right in the middle of it.”