The Wharton Volunteer Fire Department’s members are remembering a firefighter who perished nine years ago this month.
“For many July 4th is a day of festivities, but as we all know, for the Wharton Volunteer Fire Department July 4th is a day for our fallen. Nine years ago, Captain Thomas T. Araguz III answered his last call, and for your bravery we remember you today,” the department said in a released statement.
The WVFD paid its respects at 7:40 a.m., the time his body was recovered from the charred rubble.
Firefighters from more than 30 departments including West Wharton County’s rushed to Maxim Eggs on July 3, 2010, encountering raging flames. Almost a year later, the State Fire Marshal’s office would say arching wires in a light fixture sparked the blaze which grew quickly in the warehouse which lacked a sprinkler system.
All employees had evacuated.
But Araguz and one other from his department pulled a hose deep inside the plant as the fire grew during the early moments.
Both somehow the two lost their grip on the hose line and managed to become separated from each other.
In addition to supplying water, a fireman’s hose serves as a lifeline – follow the hose and that’s the way back out.
The other Wharton firefighter somehow made it to a wall and was rescued by his fellow volunteers quickly. He and one other WVFD firefighter were injured that night.
Fellow volunteers tried four times to rescue Araguz, but were forced back by the fierceness of the fire. He was ultimately found in the ashes at 7:20 a.m. July 4, 2010. Araguz was 30 years old.
The State Fire Marshal’s report questioned why the two Wharton volunteers entered the burning facility knowing lives were not at risk.
It was a harsh lesson for the Wharton department.
By all available records, Araguz is the only Wharton County firefighter to die while fighting a fire. Another WVFD member, former Chief Jim Wendel, died while attending a Texas A&M training exercise.
Wharton County has eight volunteer fire departments – El Campo, Louise, Danevang, Wharton, East Bernard, Hungerford, Boling and Glen Flora. The El Campo department formed in 1908 and Wharton’s in 1906. The others followed over the next three to five decades.