Assistant chief recalls riding out tornado in Hughes Springs fire station

Crew still waiting for everything to get better; “it just takes time”
Published: Feb. 27, 2023 at 11:50 PM CST
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HUGHES SPRINGS, Texas (KSLA) — It’s been 4 months now since a tornado ripped through the small Cass County, Texas, town of Hughes Springs.

But if you drive the streets today, in some ways, it looks frozen in time.

Some homes are still nothing more than a pile of busted-up lumber, and the fire station gutted and twisted metal.

While the Fire Department waits on the insurance company to give them answers, for the first time we’re hearing from one firefighter who can give them all the answers they’d ever want.

“It’s a slow process. I’m impatient.”

For volunteer Fire Chief and full-time police Sgt. Jay Cates, the visual reminders make it hard to forget.

“It’s depressing to see.”

And Assistant Fire Chief Randy Jones still wonders how in the world he made it through that night alive.

“Oh, I’ve seen a bunch. Never been in the middle of it.”

Randy had raced to the fire station to respond to a call for help after a tornado touched down in the neighboring town of Daingerfield, Texas, when it hit.

“The wind and rain started, so I shut the door.”

A second tornado that suddenly dropped from the sky with little warning.

“By the time I walked back, the doors flew in and the walls started shaking.”

As the sheet metal started ripping away and steel beams twisted in place, Randy said all hell broke loose.

“I had my Jeep in here and grabbed by tire and buried myself in the back of it,” he recalled. “It was numbing. It was so loud, I kinda went numb. I could feel stuff hitting me.

Randy’s pictures from that night show what little space his Jeep created but enough space to spare him from the roof that fell in on him.

“I climb over everything” ... and straight behind the wheel of their five-ton fire truck, which he drives straight out of this mess.

Not even a half block from where Randy rode out that tornado is First Street. It’s the main strip through town. It’s virtually unscathed. Talk about a close call for the town’s 180-year history and its buildings.

“We lost gear, found it in the woods. My desk was in here. Somebody was watching over me.”

But inside that fire station where just about everything else either flew out, fell down or made a run for it, was likely the closest call of them all.

“She was hiding under there.”

She was in shock for several days.

Nine-year-old Dixie, their fire house dog who just showed up one day several years back and has been part of the crew ever since.

“She was really attached to that station big time. If the fence wasn’t up there, she’d go back in there.”

A sentiment shared by the entire Hughes Springs firefighting family who lost their second home and are stuck patiently waiting for the day to move back in.

“I’ve been here since ‘84. It’s depressing to see it. It will be better. It just takes time.”