REFUGIO – Hurricane Harvey put the Refugio Volunteer Fire Department’s annual Labor Day Dinner out of service for the past two years.

This year, the dinner was back at Our Lady of Refuge Catholic Church in Refugio for its 27th year, and Fire Capt. Ronnie Williams said the fundraiser could bring his department up to $10,000.

“The turnout was always great,” Williams said. “I was a little nervous because this was the first year back in two years, but the support was still there.”

Williams said the money for the meals is donated by area businesses.

He said they need the funds more than ever. The department received more calls in August than in any other month in the 26 years Williams has worked at the station.

While fighting a grass fire that consumed 1,500 acres in Refugio County last week, the Refugio Volunteer Fire Department spent about $2,000, Williams said.

Gillian Tate, a volunteer firefighter with the Rockport Volunteer Fire Department, said she thinks fires were especially bad this summer because it has been the driest season since Hurricane Harvey. She said the hurricane made the grass grow taller, providing extra fuel for fires, and it left a number of structures vacant because of storm damage.

Tate attended the dinner with her grandfather, Gary Smith, who also volunteers at the Rockport department, and her daughter, Gianna Cox. Tate said five generations of her family have worked as volunteer firefighters.

“We always try to support each other,” Tate said.

She said 75% of all fire departments in the U.S. are volunteer departments.

Although most volunteer firefighters receive no pay, Williams said Refugio’s volunteer firefighters receive some compensation from the city. However, he said, all area volunteer fire departments are currently in need of more volunteers.

Although the number of volunteers may be down, community support is not.

Williams said about 900 plates were sold by the end of the event.

Morgan is the business reporter for the Victoria Advocate. She can be reached at (361) 580-6328, or @mcohanlon.

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