Friday, September 9, 2011

It's Far From Over But We're Home!

It's far from over, but we are home at least. 
We are among the lucky ones. 

The Bastrop Complex Fire of Sept. 4, 2011 is the largest of many that broke out around Central Texas on Labor Day Weekend. It came during a horrendous drought that still continues. Following months of daily temperatures of 100 plus degrees F, (as high as 112 near us), and constant southerly winds, the weekend brought strong northerly winds and a break in the temperature. This felt wonderful. However, the gusty winds also apparently brought down dead limbs onto power lines and sparked this fire Sunday afternoon. It started east of us and traveled fairly straight to the south, missing us by only two miles or so. There was a huge wave of boiling smoke high in the sky all afternoon as the firestorm raced through dry grass and dry pine trees into the Bastrop State Park and through wooded neighborhoods. Everything was bone dry, and the winds pushed the fire farther and farther. 

We were finally evacuated Sunday evening at about 8. We grabbed our four cats and stuffed them into carriers, grabbed food and clothing and left, taking both cars and my motorcycle. Not sure where to go, we rendezvoused at the Bastrop Library. Cat had been in touch with a good friend, Amanda, in Austin, who has a vacation rental that was vacant. Amanda immediately put it at our disposal at no charge, so we headed into town. It looked as if all the world near Bastrop was on fire. 

There we were, evacuating EarthSong Retreat, our new home, and on our way to Austin, not knowing if we would lose everything or not. As an added incongruity, Cat witnessed a motorist tossing a lit cigarette out of a window onto the pavement, sparks flying. It made her very angry, as it did me when she told me about it later. What an IDIOT! In the next couple of days fires broke out all around Austin and another in Bastrop. Some of those fires were accidental, others were apparently arson. In the midst of all of this, other instances of smokers tossing lit cigarettes out of windows were witnessed by friends. The stupidity was mind boggling.

Amanda and her family welcomed us to their home and rental unit, we moved in and started the wait. It was very comfortable, a beautiful place just off of Barton Springs and Zilker Park in Austin. 

We used the wifi to follow the news and updates on the fire. More and more people were pouring into the evacuee shelters in Bastrop, making us glad that we had come on into Austin. It took us several days to get through the busy phone lines and register ourselves as evacuees so that we might be notified of changes. 

More and more businesses in Bastrop and Austin were helping out the folks who were waiting. We were treated to a free dinner at La Fonda San Miguel in Austin, free to evacuees. It was a fabulous meal, in a place we would normally dress up to go to. The staff was wonderful, the food was great, and they offered us the full menu. Our server, David, had been an evacuee from Hurricane Katrina. That meal was such a bright spot in a dreary waiting game! We were also constantly getting calls and messages from friends and relatives who were checking on us. That meant a lot as well!

We were constantly watching updates and monitoring the Bastrop County Office of Emergency Services page on Facebook for news. KXAN News was a good source, as were the Facebook pages of "Texas Storm Chasers" and  "We Are Okay in Bastrop", and others. Several pages had sprung up on Facebook for groups monitoring the fire, most had some good information. A lot of it was also on Twitter.

Finally, on Thursday, Sept. 8, 2011, the news came out that folks in some areas were being allowed to re-enter. Ours was one of those areas. Another good friend, Maria, and her family, who live North of us had already returned. They had gone by our place and reported to us that all was well. The fire maps we had seen all indicated that the fire hadn't come as far west as us, but it was great to have confirmation. Of course, we also had concerns about looters. A few weeks before the fire we had already suffered some vandalism. When we got the news about re-entry we were ecstatic, we couldn't get loaded fast enough. It was great on another level, as the rental we were using was booked for the weekend. We needed to be out anyway. We had received offers from other friends of places to stay, but going home is SO much better!

Everything at home was okay, other than some wind damage from the blustery norther. It seemed very quiet in our area. A lot of people have not returned. Just a couple of miles away families have lost everything. My cousin lives four miles away and was burned out. At this moment the count is nearly 1400 structures burned. Most of those are homes, with a few barns, offices, and other buildings. I believe there have been only four human fatalities so far, but innumerable animal casualties. The fire is still only 30% contained now, but it has moved further south. At latest count close to 35,000 acres has burned. This includes almost all of Bastrop State Park, parts of other parks, and so many neighborhoods. A huge blackened area is visible by satellite. 

This is the satellite picture. We are located just above Lake Bastrop seen on the left side of the map. This is a shot from a French satellite, processed by UT. 

In our area, however, the continuing northerly winds carry the smoke away from us. We smell very little of it here. Air quality is down, but not too bad. The smoke is not even visible from here. 

We were so lucky!

For those who may be interested. Check out the beautiful vacation rental we stayed at. It is called "Wren's Nest" in Austin, Tx. It can be seen on , listing #293833. Phone 512-788-1044. Tell Amanda that William RainCrow sent you!

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