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One year later:

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Hope and rebirth

One tree at a time Lost Pines Forest Recovery Campaign launches efforts

BASTROP – Nearing the one-year anniversary of the most destructive wildfire in Texas history, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, Arbor Day Foundation and Texas A&M Forest Service will appeal for help by launching the Lost Pines Forest Recovery Campaign, a multi-year public-private partnership to raise money to plant millions of trees on public and private land. The September 2011

fire destroyed more homes than any other in state history, and it raged through 95 percent of 6,600-acre Bastrop State Park, as well surrounding private forest lands. The forest recovery campaign, expected to cost more than $4 million, aims to plant native loblolly pine seedlings on about 16,000 burned acres. The forest recovery campaign will support the see rECOVEry, page C10

ArborGen is the leading developer of biotechnology tree seedling products and one of the largest providers of conventional and technology enhanced seedlings to the forestry industry. Fortunately, these Loblolly Pine babies are getting ready for planting in the devastated Lost Pines area Contributed photo

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Thursday, August 30, 2012

Sunday, Sept. 4, 2011, timeline

First responders soon realize enormity of Labor Day fires

All photos in this special fire anniversary section were taken by staff members of The Bastrop Advertiser or The Smithville Times, unless otherwise noted.

1-7:13 p.m

1 p.m. – Call is made to open emergency operations center 1:30 p.m. – Emergency operations center is staffed and activated 2:20 p.m. – 911 call comes in to dispatcher. 258 Charolais has power line down behind house. Caller says, “It’s a big fire. I’m afraid. It’s a big fire!” 2:21 p.m. – Dispatcher calls for Bastrop Fire Department en route to fire at 258 Charolais 2:25 p.m. – Dispatcher page goes out to McDade and Paige VFD’s for mutual aid 2:26 p.m. – Bastrop FD informed that this event is county only, mutual aid only inside the county. No air resources and the only dozers are in Bastrop and Elgin 2:27 p.m. – Request from Bastrop FD for mutual aid from Heart of Pines and Federal Correctional Institution 2:29 p.m. – Bastrop Sheriff’s office requests fire task force to respond to 258 Charolais 2:30 p.m. – Bastrop FD requests deputies to help with evacuations 2:33 p.m. – Bastrop FD to EOC: “Need you to round up the rest of the county to help with fire.” 2:33 p.m. – Sheriff’s officers start evacuations 2:34 p.m. – Bastrop FD: “Fire is running to north how and fire and already spotted over county road. Structure in danger at 210 Charolais.” 2:37 p.m. – Bastrop FD: “Give me everything you got from Heart of the Pines. We got a monster

Sometime after 2 p.m., the massive wildfire jumped FM 1441 from Charolais Drive. with spot fires everywhere!” 2:39 p.m. – Bastrop FD to EOC: “You are going to have to find me some help. Things are looking bad out here.” EOC: “We are trying to get you aircraft and anything else.” Bastrop FD: “I’m being overrun. This is going to be another Wilderness Ridge Fire.” 2:40 p.m. – Dispatcher has request for Five Points VFD mutual aid. 2:41 p.m. – Bastrop FD: “I have a wall of fire coming down Charolais toward FM 1441. Fire has jumped County Road and is on Cattlemen’s Drive.” 2:42 p.m. – Bastrop FD: “Fire is now at Hereford and Cattlemen’s. I don’t know if I can get out of here.” 2:43 p.m. – Bastrop FD: “We have spot fire and structures in dan-

ger at Charolais Drive and Santa Gertrudis. I’m one person on this truck. I need assistance.” 2:45 p.m. – First aircraft arrives on scene 2:51 p.m. – Bastrop FD: “It sounds like a freight coming. We are having to abandon this house at 154 Charolais. We are not getting anyone killed on this fire. Nobody is getting killed.” Bastrop FD to EOC: “Need to start reverse 911.” EOC: “Sheriff’s deputies are doing evacuations at this time and we are trying to get more for you.” 3:02 p.m. - Bastrop FD: “I want all units off Charolais. It’s blowing up. Use extreme caution. Visibility is zero. Everyone needs to pull out. Come on, come on before you get burned over. Fire has jumped Hwy. 21 east of KC Drive. Fire

is in the trees, we have heavy fire crossing Hwy. 21.” EMC: “I’m making a declaration to declare this fire a disaster.” 3:29 p.m. – FD: “Fire has crossed power line easement in the state park across from Pine Tree Loop. It looks like it is headed right for Heart of the Pines area. We are doing evacuations at this time on the KC, Porter, Pine Tree Loop, State Park, Pine Hill Loop, Harmon Road, McAllister Road and Tahitian Drive.” 3:40 p.m. – FD: “We have fire on the south side of Park Road 1C at Gotier Trace Road. We have spot fires and the fire storm is crossing now. The fire isn’t up in the trees at this time.” 3:43 p.m. – Dispatcher to all units: “Everything from Circle D to Colorado River needs to be evacuated.”

3:44 p.m. – Dispatcher calls for units to be en route to a new fire at 174 Schwartz Ranch Road in McDade. This would be the second fire to start on the complex that would run into the initial fire on Charolais. 4:07 p.m. – Bastrop FD: “Fire has jumped Hwy 71 and is headed into Smith Ranch.” 4:12 p.m. – Dispatcher calls for units to be en route to a new fire behind the Colony. 4:17 p.m. – Deputy: “We need to start evacuating the rest of Cardinal Drive and Ponderosa Loop. The fire from McDade is headed this way.” 4:20 p.m. – Dispatcher calls for units to be en route to a new fire in the area of Jeddo Road in Rosanky. 4:27 p.m. – FD: “Fire is coming up in the backyards of the homes on

Green Acres Loop.” 4:39 p.m. – FD: “The fire is now spotting over Crafts Prairie heading toward the river. The fire is gaining momentum drifting toward Smithville.” 4:48 p.m. – Bastrop FD: “The two fires are about to burn together here at Cardinal. We are going to find a safe spot to hunker down and come out to Hwy 21 when we can.” 5:16 p.m. – Bastrop FD: “We have a new fire from a tree on power line. It’s running hard; there isn’t any stopping it. It’s about a mile west of the main fire.” This would be a possible third ignition on the complex. 6:05 p.m. – Bastrop FD: “The fire has jumped the river at the end of Tahitian Drive and is rolling across the field.” 6:31 p.m. – Bastrop FD: “The fire is making a really hard run to Hwy 21 and looks like it is going to cross and go into Quarterhorse Loop. 7:03 p.m. – Bastrop FD to Incident Commander: “Engine 862 has been rescued. The truck is melted but both firefighters appear to be OK and are being looked at by EMS.” 7:13 p.m. – Bastrop FD: “Looks like the fire is running down Tall Forest. We have multiple structures on fire. We are driving out between two walls of fire. All units evacuate, evacuate. Let’s get off Tall Forest. Just keep your eyes on the side of the road and work your way out of here.” *Excerpt of timeline taken from the Bastrop Complex Wildfire Case Study.

����������������������������� Fire anniversary events The one-year anniversary of the Bastrop County Complex Fire will be marked with several events.

Saturday, Sept. 1

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n 1-4 p.m. - Folks are invited to “Rediscover Bastrop State Park,” through guided hikes, exhibits and activities for all ages. Firefighters who helped defend the park against the blaze will be on hand. Visitors will learn the future of the park and how they can help. Park entry for the event is free.

Sunday, Sept. 2

n 6-10 a.m. – Burning Pine 5K & 10K. The Bastrop YMCA in collaboration with Friends of the Lost Pines, is hosting the inaugural Burning Pine 5K/10K and Family 1K. Terry Moore, 332-8805. n 2 p.m. - A praise and worship service

Former Bastrop County Judge Ronnie McDonald hoisted the American flag on the Bastrop High School football field as a rallying symbol right after the fires. sponsored by the ministerial alliances of the cities of Bastrop, Smithville and Elgin will take place at the Jerry Fay Wilhelm Performing Arts Center, 1401 Cedar St. in Bastrop. Everyone is invited to this free event.

Monday, Sept. 3

n 12-2 p.m. - Come have lunch with first responders and fire-

fighters. These free lunches will take place at all major fire stations throughout the county. Area churches are sponsoring the event and will provide the food and chairs. Everyone is invited to come and show their appreciation to these individuals who protect their communities. To find See EVENTS, page C9



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Thursday, August 30, 2012

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MoNEy traIL

Seeking support By Sarah acoSta Staff Writer The sight of flames and smoke may have diminished, but the ashes leave a trail of memories and courage behind for those affected by the devastating wildfires in Bastrop County last September. The Bastrop County Complex Fires destroyed a total of 1,691 homes, 38 businesses, resulted in two deaths and inflicted an estimated $325 million of insured property damage. The Complex fire was the most destructive single wildfire in Texas history and the third largest fire in U.S. history, but this amount does not include the hundreds of uninsured homes that still remain untouched. According to FEMA’s data, of the homes destroyed in Bastrop County, approximately 276 were uninsured and 747 were low income. When Bastrop County was declared a federal disaster area FEMA, the Texas Department of Emergency Management was charged with the responsibility of assisting with the establishment of a Long Term Recovery Organization (LTRO). The Bastrop County Long Term Recovery Team held its first official meeting on Sept. 27, 2011, when the fire was 98 percent contained. “Recovery from a disaster did not come with an instruction manual and in the case of the BCLTRT it

did not come with any money, either,” said BCLTRT chairman of the board Christine Files. “However, what it did come with was the support and direction of the faith-based disaster organizations with which we continue to work with today and without which we would never have been able to continue to operate.” On Oct. 11, 2011, just one day after the fire was declared 100 percent contained, the first officers were elected and their mission statement was approved. “I am so proud to be a part of such an incredible group of people and I am proud of what the team has been able to accomplish” Files said. “We are one resilient group of people.” All members of the BCLTRT worked as unpaid volunteers and no one was reimbursed for any of their out-ofpocket expenses. In 2011, the organization only received $10,332.34 in grants and donations. Of that amount, they spent $500 on gift cards for BISD students in need and paid $3,000 for rent to keep the doors open at the Bastrop County Fire Relief distribution center. When BCLTRT became an official 501 (c) (3) non-profit organization, they became eligible for grants and any other tax-exempt monies coming in. Currently, BCLTRT’s funding partners have funded over $600,000 for 31 projects for recovery efforts in Bastrop County.


Deborah Cannon/AMERICAN-STATESMAN The Dixie Chicks at Fire Relief The Concert for Central Willie Nelson performs at Fire Texas at the Frank Erwin Center on Monday, October 17, 2011. Relief The Concert for Central Texas at the Frank Erwin Center on Monday, October 17, 2011. Partners include the Episcopal Diocese of Texas; Austin Disaster Relief Network : Lutheran Social Services Disaster Response, United Methodist Church SWTX Conference, Bastrop Christian Ministerial Alliance, Smithville Ministerial Alliance, First United Methodist Church of Bastrop, Bastrop Rotary Club and Presbyterian Churches, USA. “However, these funding sources are nearing the end of their available funds and other sources of funds will need to be identified for these projects to continue,” Files added. On May 12, the BCLTRT was awarded a grant from the Austin Community Foundation in the amount of $205,096 for which $151,736 was designated for the rebuilding of 10 homes and $52,360 was designated for salSee traIL, page c5


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Thursday, August 30, 2012


Many ways people can help control damage By Erin GrEEn Staff Writer The data tells the story. According to the Bastrop County Complex Fire Case Study, an estimated 1,000 homes were lost on the first day of the fire, Sunday, Sept. 4, 2011; 658 homes were lost on Sept. 5 and two more on Sept. 6. All told, 1,685 homes were lost during the most destructive wildfire in Texas history, which was the third most destructive fire ever in terms of home losses, behind two fires in California. What Bastrop County home and property owners have learned and what they can do to protect themselves, their homes and their property have been the topic of much discussion around Bastrop since the fires. But it’s also been the topic of a series of workshops, including the recent “Preparing for the Next Wildfire: Lessons Learned from the Bastrop County Complex Fires,” by Michal Hubbard of the Fire Citizens’ Advisory Panel, Inc. and the Texas Forest Service. So what did we learn about protecting our homes and property from the fire? According to Hubbard, there are many lessons homeowners can take to reduce the risk of losing their homes — and all the memories and personally-valuable items within them — in the event of another major wildfire. Hubbard said FireCAP —

Michal Hubbard of the Fire Citizens Advisory Panel, Inc. helps people better fireproof their property and homes through workshops. its mission is to “reduce wildfire risks … in Texas through education, preparation, advocacy and networking with citizen groups and emergency services organizations” — had already been working with homeowners on mitigation efforts, but added that the organization has tweaked its recommendations based on the Bastrop fires. “Some of the things we’ve been teaching aren’t necessarily wrong, but I’m going to be a bit more demanding in telling homeowners what they need to do” to protect their homes going forward, Hubbard said. Most importantly, Hubbard said, homeowners should

establish a fire break around their homes — clear brush and leaves, cut grass, leave open space and use grass and driveways as fire breaks. She also recommends using bricks, pavers, concrete and other fire-resistant materials when landscaping. “I think it was the little things that got the majority of the homes that burned,” Hubbard said, noting it’s important to establish a defensible space of at least 30 feet around the home and to use fire-resistant materials in any structure or attachment to the home such as porches, decks or fences, as well as in the home itself, especially the walls and roof.

“It’s about keeping the flames away from your property and your home,” Hubbard said. She noted many factors affect how much risk any given property faces. Topographic features such as canyons, ridges, drainages and slopes all affect how quickly a fire moves. A fire on a hillside, for instance, can grow very quickly, partly because flames can reach up to twice the height of the structure or object being burned. “Fires that start at the base of a slope generally become the largest fires,” she said, noting that the steeper the slope, the higher the

flames will go and the higher the chance the flames will spread. Other natural features like ravines can also help a fire spread more quickly, she said. Homeowners should also trim trees in their yards; trimming back limbs from the tops of the trees can help reduce the risk of a fire spreading through the tree crowns to your house, Hubbard said. “Look up, look, down, look all around” to reduce the risk of a fire spreading, she said. Even so, many homes weren’t lost to direct contact with the fire lines, Hubbard said. “It’s not the flame front necessarily, it’s the embers and other debris floating around that will get your house,” she said. Hubbard added that the weather patterns from the fire itself — creating tornado-like eddies of wind — and radiant heat also contributed to the loss of homes. All in all, there are many things homeowners can do, but nobody can completely eliminate fire risk, she said. “Wildfires will always be a risk for those living in the wildfire urban interface,” Hubbard said. “Some fires may be catastrophic. Most fires can be prepared for. And preparing for a wildfire is the homeowner’s responsibility.” For more information on preparing for a wildfire, log onto, or fire

Texas fire report: Bigger buffer could save homes By ricArdo GAndArA Austin American-Statesman The long-accepted maxim that homeowners should have a defensible space of at least 30 feet around a home to help protect it from wildfires should be greatly extended, according to the final report on the 2011 Bastrop County wildfire. “Of 341 homes that we studied and were destroyed in the fire, 85 percent had defensible space of at least 30 feet,” said Karen Ridenour, the principal researcher and author of the study and fire researcher for the Texas Forest Service. “This tells me we have to stop telling people 30 feet. We need to push that number out a lot farther.” In the newly released report, Ridenour stops short of recommending a larger vegetation-free radius around a home but points to California’s law that requires 100 feet of defensible space. The defensible space concept that has been around for decades recommends the

perimeter of a home be free of vegetation because plants, trees and shrubs compromise a home in a wildfire. The observation was one of many in the recently completed Bastrop Complex Wildfire Case Study, a 165page report designed to spell out the lessons learned from last September’s wildfire and how to prepare for the next one. Several state and county agencies, as well as Texas State University, collaborated on the study. The report is available at the Bastrop Public Library and also on Bastrop County’s website at The report praises the quick reaction of firefighters, sheriff’s deputies and others who evacuated people out of the fire’s path. It also includes a Sept. 4 transcript between 911 dispatchers and emergency responders when the fire broke out. The report concludes that no matter how much homeowners, firefighters and county officials prepare for such a natural disaster, a

bad wildfire in so-called wildland urban interfaces -- areas where people live in wildlands such as forests -- will do major damage. The Bastrop wildfire -the most destructive in Texas history -- began on Labor Day weekend 2011, scorched 32,400 acres, destroyed 1,696 homes and claimed two lives. A Texas Forest Service investigation concluded that the likely cause was trees that crashed into overhead power lines. Wind gusts of more than 30 mph on Sept. 4 apparently knocked down trees that tumbled into the electrical lines at two locations, causing sparks that fell into the dry grass and tree litter below, according to the investigative report. Many of the Bastrop homes were built from masonry and had roofs made of asphalt and metal -- which are not typically considered combustible, Ridenour said. Of the 341 destroyed homes studied in the report, 80 percent of them had masonry construction, 84 per-

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cent had asphalt roofing, and 83 percent had metal roofing. “That tells me it wasn’t the roof but the accumulation of debris in the valleys and leaves in the gutters” that probably led to the homes’ destruction, Ridenour said. Mike Fisher, Bastrop County’s emergency management coordinator and a coauthor of the study, agreed. “Part of the conclusion is that firewise construction and defensible space that we’ve talked about for years is not an insurance that your home won’t burn,” Fisher said. “Homes were destroyed because of the fire behavior, a behavior that was extraordinary and phenomenal. It had to do with the conditions of that day. It was a year’s worth of drought. It was dry and windy.” Ridenour said it’s the “little things” that homeowners overlook that put them in jeopardy. “It’s the bush that is too close to a window and compromises that window, (then) flames or heat break the window, and you will have em-

bers going into the house. It’s debris in the gutters and the straw mat heated by embers that will catch a house on fire,” she said. Researchers also looked at other factors that may have contributed to the destruction, such as the dates homes were built, topography and weather. Of destroyed homes studied in the report, 34 were built in the 1970s, 116 in the 1980s, 103 in the 1990s, and 67 in the 2000s. Ridenour said home maintenance is key but that it takes a collaborative effort in a neighborhood to reduce the risks of fires. How does Bastrop County prepare for the next wildfire? “The bottom line is that we have to get rid of the unnecessary fuel,” Fisher said. “Defensible space and firewise techniques are components that are important to preparation,” he said. “But the reality is that if we are to build homes in a previously unattended forest, we have to do mechanical trimming and prescribed burning.”

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Falling through the cracks after the fire By CyndI WRIghT Editor Sandy Hemphill has roots that trace back to the beginning of Bastrop County. Her grandmother’s maiden name is Watterson, and anyone familiar with the county’s history knows that name. Sandy belongs to the seventh generation of families whose ancestors played a large part in settling this area. She grew up in Smithville and graduated from Smithville High School. But from her basement dwellings far away, she doesn’t feel like she – and others in her situation – has been helped after the fires in ways they should have been. Sandy left the county after high school and was gone for 35 years. During that time, she attended culinary school in Oregon and came back to Texas to work as a pastry and catering chef. A kind of “gypsy soul,” Sandy has let her life follow what seemed like the natural path, not so much focused on a more traditional climb up the ladder, but more of an exploring-the-possibilities existence. An intelligent and caring woman, Sandy decided in 2006 to move back to the county. Her close friend was dying and she wanted to be near in order to help. At the time, she was also in the process of starting up an Internet marketing company with two partners. Previously, she published a cookbook.

Sandy Hemphill sits outside the Washing dishes in the great outdoors is Sandy’s method while staying in a relative’s basement. The door to her restroom facilities water from the sink pours straight out onto the ground, making washing dishes a cold experience in with her two best friends. the winter months. She found a place to live by answering an ad for a roommate. It turned out that the man advertising was a former schoolmate with a house that lent itself to two separate living areas and a common kitchen. At first, everything seemed to be going well. The start-up company was beginning to see financial results. After a while, however, the situation with the roommate began to deteriorate, and Sandy was in the process of looking for a new home when the fires started. After the fires were over, family members of the homeowner were burned out and Sandy was asked to move out. “I don’t blame them for that,” she said. “They needed a place to live after losing their homes in the fire.” It was the begin-

ning of a lifestyle that has lasted a year – moving from place to place, trying to keep the business together and her family (a cat and two dogs) together. “I’ve moved four times since the fire,” she said. “Moving is awful on work when you are the only one doing the work and the only one packing up and moving.” In fact, Sandy’s partners let her go because she wasn’t able to hold up her end of the workload. She doesn’t blame them for that, either. “I was too flaky,” she said. Part of that ‘flakiness’ stems from the fact that Sandy had landed in her sister’s basement – where her toilet facilities and sink are outside. Inside, there is one outlet and it’s easy to blow

TRAIL: Musicians come to rescue Continued from page C3 aries for construction personnel. On June 12, the BCLTRT was awarded a $150,000 grant from the Meadows Foundation for the construction of 15 homes. According to Files, neither of these grants covered the total construction costs of the homes, which come out to be around $50,000 per home for material cost only, but it certainly covered a significant amount. “What people need to realize is that even though we have received close to $950,000 in funds, almost $770,000 of that amount is specifically for construction projects of which nearly $250,000 has already been spent on those projects and another $520,000 has already been committed for an additional 16 rebuild or finish-out projects in the next six to nine months,” Files said. Then there is the Austin Community

Foundation that has approved Texas Wildfire Fund grants totaling to about $830,000. The funds received from ACF are raised through the Central Texas Wildfire Fund that was created on Sept. 6, 2011, in response to the devastating wildfires that struck Central Texas over Labor Day weekend. Since the CTWF, more than $1.4 million was raised from donors across the country. The largest donation was made as a result of the “Fire Relief” concert held in October 2011 that featured musicians Willie Nelson, George Strait, the Dixie Chicks and many more. Some funds that poured into Bastrop County were $130,000 to Austin Disaster Relief Network to support 400 Bastrop families, most of whom who had little or no insurance; $30,000 to Bastrop Pink Santa, which lost $15,000 worth of

toys in the wildfires; $100,000 to American YouthWorks to support staff-led volunteer groups that are clearing, repairing and rebuilding Bastrop State Park; $20,000 to the Central Texas Wildfire Relief Fund to purchase gear for volunteer firefighters; and $50,000 to Capital Area Food Bank, which distributed food to pantries in affected areas and will continue doing so for the next 12 months. “The good news is that we have been able to build homes, but the bad news is that there is still a lot to do here and people need to know how great the need is for some of these families on the waiting list,” said Adena Lewis, BCLTRT board member and Smithville Area Chamber of Commerce president. “I am truly amazed at all the work that has been done and that every possible dollar is being used to its full potential.”


From left Bastrop City Fire Chief Henry Perry applauds Bastrop County Judge Ronnie McDonald adresses the crowd at Fire Relief The Concert for Central Texas at the Frank Erwin Center on Monday, October 17, 2011.

fuses when the small refrigerator and other appliances – plus a computer – are plugged in simultaneously. The basement home is in Lago Vista – many miles from Bastrop County, and Sandy has no car. “It feels like solitary confinement, like I’m buried alive,” she said. FEMA and other agencies gave financial help to renters and Sandy received a little over $1,000. Because her agreement with her housemate was a handshake only, there was no copy of a lease to prove to authorities that she was homeless due to the fire. Compounding the matter, her “landlord’s” house didn’t burn – but the fire effectively forced Sandy out just as surely as if she had lost her home to the fire.

Help from other sources didn’t pan out either. At one time, she was able to move back to Smithville for a short time and live with an older woman as a housemate. During that time, she was in negotiations to start cooking classes at the Smithville Recreation Center. She was making and selling jam at the local farmer’s market and was hoping to get back into the Internet marketing business. She was in the process of making contacts with local business people to help them learn how to better market their businesses online. And then, again, the bottom fell out. The children of the woman whose home she was sharing decided they needed her to be in some sort of nursing facility closer to her

children in Houston. The house was put on the market and Sandy found herself back in the basement. She’s bitter, there’s no doubt about that. She needs money to get back on her feet. Stuck in Lago Vista with no car and miles from the nearest possible work source, she takes what help she can find from strangers and food pantries. She says her food stamps were cut off because she moved so often. She doesn’t understand why – with all of the donations and grants that have come through for people affected by the fires – she cannot seem to qualify for any of it. “If there’s an ugly side to people, this has brought it out,” she says. There’s also a hopeful side. A friend has offered her a car for easy monthly payments. She is currently working on another cookbook. But she really wants to get back to Bastrop County - or Austin where there are more work opportunities and public transportation, maintain a single physical address for at least two years, resurrect the cooking classes at the rec center and rekindle the business relationships she had started making in Bastrop. “I feel like I’m living in limbo,” she said. “There is a nice, big, happy life out there for me. I just have to bridge the gap between here and there. It’s just going to take money and I don’t know where to get it.”

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Thursday, August 30, 2012

I am tall and strong

Hot Off The Web

I am tall and strong I wonder about my house I hear the flames I see my house burning I want to live in my house I am tall and strong I pretend that my house isn’t gone I feel the pain of the house I worry that I might not see anything I cry because my dog died in the fire I am tall and strong I understand I have nothing to go back to I say I have to see it to believe it I dream that it didn’t happen I try not to think about it I hope I can find something in the ash I am tall and strong

Hi Just wanted to than k you and your paper for the many updates you posted here. We prayed for good news but it was not to be. M y son informed me they had lost their home to the fire. I fo und your web site and was ab le to follow the fire from here . Thanks again for being ther e.

God bless everyone in that area! Prayers are with all of you and hope to get all this cleared soon!!! Thank god for firefighters!!!!!! - jennifer c

Dylan Moeller, 11 Smithville, 6th grade

- Al Smith

with you. Our thoughts are ible fires We have these terr ese parts every summer in th what you and know exactly h. Been are all going throug the place to Bastrop and love and the people!! rbour

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Thursday, August 30, 2012

Page C7


Rebuilding and restoring habitat The fire’s environmental impact and what is next for its restoration By Erin GrEEn Staff Writer Removing debris. Rebuilding homes. Restoring the land. The magnitude of the efforts to renew what was lost when the Bastrop County Complex Fire roared through Bastrop a year ago has been enormous. But there is much work left to be done in terms of the environmental impact, the restoration and rebuilding efforts. And that work isn’t the sort of effort that will happen with the snap of a finger. The work is about much more than removing dead trees and demolishing what remains of the burned-out homes and structures. It’s about clearing away tree stumps, about erosion control, retention of top soil and much more. Precinct 2 Bastrop County Commissioner Clara Beckett has spent a great deal of time working to help Bastrop get back on its feet and the efforts to remove debris, rebuild and restore the burned land. When asked recently about the environmental impact of the most destructive wildfire ever to hit Texas, Beckett discussed the ways it has affected the county — and the efforts under way to fix what flames destroyed. “Obviously, erosion is a huge issue,” she said, pointing to one of the many concerns in the aftermath of the fire.

Planting new trees throughout the burn area will help with erosion control, as this property owners has illustrated. To date, Bastrop has received several grants — including ones from Alcoa for habitat restoration, from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development for housing and erosion control and from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality — to help rebuild and restore the community and its infrastructure, Beckett said. As soon as workers can get their permits, Beckett said, funds from HUD as well as from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service,

will kick in to start work to clear away dead tree stumps and to shore up and protect damaged and exposed infrastructure in the burned areas, as well as to do shore up land and reduce soil runoff. “We’re really hopeful that between the NRCS funds and the HUD funds, we can get a real handle on erosion this winter,” Beckett said, adding that if these efforts can be completed over the winter, that will leave the county free to pursue reforestation efforts next summer. The county is also receiv-

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ing funds to help clear dead trees out of the county rightsof-way, Beckett said. This money, from the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization, is not normally used for county roads, but in this case, the organization made the allocation to help clear dead trees that fell on roads or hit power lines, she said. “These were basically safety dollars, but it made sense to allocate them for this because of the safety hazard they pose,” Beckett said. As far as debris cleanup is concerned, Beckett said,

“We’re starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel.” But, she said, while working in the rights-of-way is one thing, the county is also working with private landowners. Earlier this summer, the county sent letters as required by the Texas Health and Safety Code to property owners to establish legal right of entry into property for tree removal. Noting that certain things must be done in a certain order — removing dangerous trees and damaged infrastructure, then repairing and replacing the infrastructure, then replanting — Beckett said the restoration efforts, including replanting and hydramulching, will be “a twoto three-year effort,” and, if all goes well in terms of receiving grants and finalizing debris removal over this winter to allow restoration efforts to begin in 2013 will be important. “I’m hopeful that if we can get these things done over the winter, we can go in next summer and get the restoration efforts going,” Beckett said. She said while it will be a challenge to get the land and the unique beauty of Bastrop County as close to what it was within the next five years, the county is committed to making that happen. “We’re committed to get everything done that we can within the limits of our resources,” she said. “So far, it’s balancing out well.”

Page C8

Thursday, August 30, 2012


Counseling eases fear from fires By Terry HagerTy Assistant Editor More than a few people had harrowing escapes from the fast-moving blaze that kicked off the Bastrop County Complex Fire on Sunday afternoon, Sept. 4, 2011, according to fire and police officials. Many more people returned to homes that either been burned to cinders or barely remained.

“Bluebonnet Trails Community Services did a tremendous job.”

— Mike Fisher, county’s emergency management coordinator For many youth and adults the effects of trauma from the fire continued in the weeks and months that followed. According to mental health professionals, anniversaries of disaster events can also be anxious times, including the approaching one-year anniversary of the Complex fire on Sept. 4. For many of those affected by the fire – including responding firefighters and law enforcement officers who also lost homes – the availability of immediate counseling was of great help, said Mike Fisher, Bastrop County’s emergency management coordinator. “There’s no question the fire affected first responders, as well as others,” Fisher said. “We put in a special request early on, within a few days of the fire, specifically for first responders (for counseling services.) I think many of them made use of it.” Fisher said the strong bonds among first responders had a ripple effect when it came to the loss of their

Contributed photo

Staff at Bluebonnet Trails Community Service (MHMR) collected 600 playful sock monkeys from Jade Sims and her organization, Craft Hope, to help children cope in the aftermath of the Bastrop Complex Fire. Bluebonnet has also provided free counseling after the fire. homes and property. It was a double whammy for some – having to stand back and watch the tremendous push of the fire take the homes of residents and their compadres. For many of the firefighters, “The fire was the biggest event of their career, it was overwhelming,” Fisher said. “And they are such a tight bunch, if one person lost a home, they all are affected.”

a local agency helps

Fisher credited Bluebonnet Trails Community Services, a nonprofit mental health organization based in Bastrop and Round Rock, for their strong response in providing counseling to those who sought it. Counseling at schools and from private practices was also available in the area. (See related story). “Bluebonnet Trails did a tremendous job, we were glad to have them

aboard and in the community,” Fisher said of the non-profit with offices in both Bastrop and Round Rock. Darla Absher, one of Bluebonnet Trails professional counselors, said that since January, Bluebonnet Trails had counseled 786 people in group sessions who sought help in dealing with the aftereffects of the fire. “We also went out in teams to the fire areas to talk to people,” Absher added. Bluebonnet Trails was able to deliver a counseling program – Texas P.R.I.D.E (People Recovering In Spite of Devastating Events) Crisis Counseling – through a FEMA grant awarded to the Texas Department of State Health Services, and then passed on to Bluebonnet. That program continues through Oct. 31, but Absher emphasized that Bluebonnet Trails staff will continue

to provide counseling to those affected by the fire after that date. Absher said her team encountered some pronounced effects when interviewing who survived the fire. “You hear folks say things like, ‘Just the smell of burning trash still makes me feel sick deep inside,’” Absher related in a recent interview recorded by the Texas Health and Human Services Commission. Absher added that some people involved in the fire had “extreme stress reactions such as hyper-vigilance, anxiety attacks or stomach pain.” And a year later, does not necessarily mean that time and distance has lessened the emotional impact, Absher emphasized. She and other counselors concur that those wanting to talk to a professional counselor may need that assistance well beyond the one-year anniversary of the fire, and should not consider that need unusual in any way.

Services still available

All services provided by Bluebonnet Trails are confidential and are provided free of charge, and can be delivered in survivors’ homes. Everyone affected by the fires, directly or indirectly, is encouraged to call Bluebonnet Trails for individual and group crisis counseling for adults, adolescents, and children. Twice-weekly support group sessions in Bastrop are held on Tuesdays, 6:30–7:30 p.m. at the Circle D Fire Station at 969 FM 1441, and on Wednesdays, 6:30–7:30 p.m. at the Tahitian Village Fire Station on Corporate Drive. For more information, call Bluebonnet Trails Community Services at 512-718-7817 or email them at

Psychologist deals with aftermath of fire Anniversary could trigger traumatic memories from 2011 disaster By Terry HagerTy Assistant Editor Julia Hickman was in a unique position when it came to the aftermath of the Bastrop County Complex Fire. The Bastrop professional psychologist counseled people experiencing trauma, as well as dealing with the loss of her own home in Circle D, where one of the two main blazes started from a downed electrical line. And she makes no bones about still personally experiencing some of that trauma. “I drove down Highway 21 a while ago, because I don’t go down that road anymore,” Hickman recalled. “I’m pretty strong psychologically, but it was very traumatic for me driving back down that road. I got kind of sick in my stomach and was very sad, not only for myself but for the whole ugliness of the event.” She said the thick stand of pines that previously reached back from Hwy. 21 “was the most gorgeous drive before, but it’s not anymore. I can’t do the drive anymore – I get too triggered (with emotions). Four of my best friends lost their homes, we were a close-knit group. And seven of my clients lost their homes.” Hickman said it is understandable many people are having heightened emotions with the fire’s Sept. 4 anniversary approaching. “Anxiety symptoms are still very prevalent following one year after the fire,” Hickman said. “When an anniversary date approaches for that magnitude of loss – like the fire – or any loss of that magnitude, people often start to re-experience many of the initial feelings they had of despair, sadness, anger and disbelief. I didn’t quit functioning, but a lot of people are not functioning very well after the fires.” Hickman said she’s encountered a whole gamut of emotions from her clients who went through the fire. “Oh yes, they have nightmares,” she said. “I didn’t have to flee my home, but some Circle D people did. Those people were escaping as flames were lapping up the back of their homes. They have that additional trauma.” Hickman said simple smells connected with the fire can be a power-

Evacuated residents anxiously check an updated list of homes that are confirmed burned.

Watching a massive disaster strike your hometown is a traumatic event. ful trigger of emotions. “For many people, they can’t stand to cook on the grill now,” she said. “They don’t want to see fire, and if they smell fire, it acts as a trigger.” Additionally, current news and photos of wildfires across the U.S. can have a powerful effect. “All the stuff about the new wildfires in California and other places, all those images can bring up their own traumas,” she said. Hickman talked about the reactions of youth she saw in the in the

months after the fire. “I’ve counseled youth and adults. The youth appear to be somewhat better in coping, but often that can depend on how the adults around them are coping. If an adult is coping, then the child can pick up that up. But the reverse can also happen, if the adult is not coping,” she explained. She said some children had it particularly rough. “For some children, you go to sleep, go to church and everything

is great, and then all of a sudden, everything you’ve ever known is destroyed – it’s very frightening for kids,” Hickman said. “There were children who were shuttled from family to family or shelter to shelter. The kids I saw, they were scared. Some of them didn’t want to go to sleep at night without a parent who was no more than five feet away from them. Many children were displaced. Some didn’t even know where they would be sleeping at night, but they still had to do homework and turn in assignments.” Hickman said anniversary events that will be held in the coming days could be beneficial for some people, but she also cautioned it could be a triggering agent for other people. “It might help some people to hear how other people have survived following the trauma of the fire,” Hickman said. “And it feels good to know you are on the ‘other’ side of a (major) event.” But she said it would be good for organizers of the anniversary gathering to have people on standby for fire survivors that may re-experience the trauma associated with the fire. “I believe that for most people who lost homes, the fire was a significant event,” Hickman said. “And whether they appear to have sailed through it, there’s some residual effect one year later. I still see it in people.”

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Page C9

Fire diary: A Seton employee Snapshot of and firefighter recalls disaster Bastrop County By Saturday, Sept.11, six days after she started fighting the fire, Lisa had slept about “9ish” hours total. But her fatigue was alleviated a little that day. I was at the volunteer signup table and two young men walked up. I told them that, if they wanted to volunteer on the “bus work crew,” they would have to give us their drivers’ licenses and we would issue them a set of gear. I had not even looked at their licenses and asked them where they were from. Mind you, I was sleep deprived … and they said Maine … I asked, “THE STATE?” They laughed and said, “Yes, ma’am!” They told me they saw the story on CNN and decided to drive down to help! Took them four days to get to Smithville, Texas! These two gentlemen are paid firefighters from Maine. They exhausted some of their vacation time to come help us. There are many stories like this, but this particular one sticks out in my mind. These two fine men stayed for five days. Over the next week, through Sept, 17, there was more mop up, small flare ups and clean up and maintenance. During this time, Lisa could reflect on all that she

had been through. Being a volunteer firefighter with the SVFD is a very, very rewarding feeling. However, my experience watching and having no control over this fire was emotionally and mentally draining. Many hours were spent having to pull out of where we were, only to watch as the fire ate away many acres, homesteads – many owned by my friends and family of mine, many by people I don’t know – but my heart goes out just the same! There were more than 3,800 hours worked by the volunteer fire fighters and 8,000 hours total including the 100-plus civilian volunteers. The Smithville Volunteer Fire Department has about 35 active members and we were blessed with the support of many of our retired/reserve volunteers. We have a fine group of men and women on our department and I am proud of each and every one of them! The outpouring of support was overwhelming! We had nonprofits parked in front of the fire department cooking pork and beef and all the trimmings for fajitas for a couple of days. One was parked behind our recreation center (half a block away) and they fixed us lunch and supper for a couple of days.

Churches fixed everything from chicken and dumplings to sausage wraps. Individuals from our fabulous community cooked for us – breakfast tacos, cookies, brownies – and our very own Seton Smithville Regional Hospital cafeteria, Bistro 71, fixed us the BEST spaghetti I have eaten in a very long time. Wives of many of our volunteers and other civilians from the town spent numerous hours organizing all of the donated items. Everything from food to lip balm to bandages … I wish I could name all of the people and businesses who contributed, but there is no way to do that. Lots of people donated “anonymously” and there is no way to personally thank them. I know I am forgetting a lot, but the message I am sending out is to let everyone know what an amazing community we have! Everyone pulled together and did an amazing job in supporting each other. Also, the brother/sisterhood of the fire departments is something that cannot be described. There were firefighters from all over the country! Awesome, just awesome! Thank you to the community of Smithville and volunteers from around the world!

Massive smoke cloud

Complex Fire

Deaths 2 Injuries 12 Total acreage burned 33,120 Estimated value of fire losses $209,318,741 Total structures in burn perimeter 2,943 Destroyed: Residential Commercial

1,685 66

As of Aug. 13, 2012

n 30,000 trees cut down in the county right of way tree removal program and 31,000 trees in the private property tree removal program. Additionally, the county has removed 6,000 trees in TxDOT’s ROW through an interlocal agreement. n Total volume of mulch for county operations amounts to 250,000 cubic yards, or a 140-yard high mound covering a football field. Slabs, concrete, masonry and other products that have been removed amount to 80,000 cubic yards, or a 45-foot pile on a football field. n Bastrop County will see a decrease of almost $1.5 million in taxes from property destroyed in the burn area.

EVENTS: Something for everyone on weekend tap Continued from page C7 a participating fire station near you, call 512-332-7201 or 512581-4022. n 5-6:45 p.m. – Bastrop Wildfire Documentary at Bastrop Opera House, 711 Spring St. The documentary titled “Bastrop: A Community In Recovery” is about continued recovery efforts, as well as many of the incredible stories of survival and rebuilding. 303-0558.

Tuesday, Sept. 4

n 6:30 p.m. - A major fundraiser for the Long Term Recovery Team will take place at the Hyatt Lost Pines. Called “A Night of Hope,” orga-

One Heart Can Drive Change Campaign Today, the ongoing emotional trauma felt throughout the community is at a breaking point. Good-hearted people are weary and running out of money to finish the job of rebuilding. At least 45 families in FEMA trailers have been given until December to move out. If additional funds do not come in to help rebuild their homes, many of these families will have to leave their land desolate and relocate somewhere else. To date, ADRN has participated in the rebuilding of 31 homes in Bastrop and Spicewood. The relief network has sown in over $400,000 and has multiple partners either matching or providing additional funds. Unfortunately, ADRN estimates that its current disaster funds will be depleted by early September and

Saturday, Sept. 8

n 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. – Free Bastrop County Fire Relief fundraiser at 201 Childers Dr. #107. Barbecue, live music, auction and drawings for fire survivors to win a variety of home products. This event supports the fire survivors and continues to provide essentials to 300 families each week. Call Ruth at 512-629-9504.

The Bastrop Advertiser

Contributed photo

Nobody who was in the area on Sunday, Sept. 4, 2011 will forget the smoke from the fire that started off of Hwy 21 in Circle D Estates on Charolais Drive.

Austin Disaster Relief Network is raising awareness and funds during September for survivors of last year’s Central Texas wildfires and for the coordination of relief efforts. The 2011 Central Texas fires caused a disaster of unprecedented proportions. It is now considered to be the worst fire disaster per capita in U.S. history. More than one third of the population of Bastrop, Smithville and Paige were impacted by this disaster and the cost to rebuild is estimated in the millions of dollars – five times worse than the recent Colorado fires (based on the number of homes). Many people lost their businesses, jobs, tools, vehicles, and the means to support their family, thereby devastating entire communities.

nizers hope to raise money to continue providing homes for needy families who were affected by the fire. For tickets and more information, contact Jennifer Long at 512-4619418 or email

(512) 321-2557

needs an additional $825,000 to rebuild and coordinate the relief efforts of 49 remaining homes yet to be built.

Two ways to help

ADRN is asking individuals and businesses for help in raising $825,000 to complete rebuilding and coordination of relief efforts to restore these devastated communities. Suggested ways to help: n Host an event n Highlight the one-year anniversary of the Central Texas fires for your neighbors, friends or family by hosting a fundraising event or filling up one of ADRN’s Central Texas Fire Fund canisters. For more information, or to make a donation to the fire fund, please visit www.adrn


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Page C10

Thursday, August 30, 2012

To see a complete copy of the Bastrop Complex Wildfire Case Study, check

The Bastrop Advertiser (512) 321-2557

The before, during and after photos from a Bastrop State Park pavilion show the changes the area has experienced.

RECOVERY: Group hopes to replant, help new growth Continued from page C1 work of the broader Lost Pines Recovery Team, a consortium of local, state and federal agencies led by Bastrop County. Special events and activities will take place at the state park and in the community throughout Labor Day weekend.

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The state park will offer free entry 1-4 p.m., Saturday, Sept. 1 for the event “Rediscover Bastrop State Park”, where visitors will learn about fire impacts and how people can help through exhibits, guided hikes, photos and first-hand accounts. On Sunday, an early morn-

ing Burning Pine 5K and 10K run kicks off at Bastrop State Park and a live music concert is from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. in the fairgrounds across from the park. Other activities during the holiday weekend will support the community at large, including a com-

memorative service at the Wilhelm Art Center hosted on Sunday, and a potluck lunch Monday to honor firefighters and first responders. A Tuesday fundraising dinner at the Hyatt Lost Pines will help rebuild uninsured homes. See events on page Cx for more.

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Bastrop State Park resembled a moonscape right after the fire on Labor Day weekend.

Help for those affected by fires The Texas General Land Office announced this week that applications are now available online for the Disaster Recovery Homeowner Program. Eligible applicants will include homeowners whose

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principal residence was damaged or destroyed in areas of Bastrop County impacted by the 2011 wildfires. Applications will be accepted by the GLO through Sept. 28, 2012. Once the application period closes, all complete applications will be compiled and randomly selected through a lottery for funding with prioritization for low and moderate income applicants. Only one application will be accepted per household. Once randomly selected, an applicant will be notified of that selection

and they will have three weeks to provide the back-up documentation necessary to continue the application process. After applicant eligibility is confirmed, the homeowner’s property will be inspected to determine if the structure will be rehabilitated or reconstructed. If the home is to be reconstructed, the homeowner will be asked to choose the floor plan for the appropriately sized home. Actual construction is estimated to take up to five months to complete. We will also be of-

fering a down payment assistance program for individuals who do not want to reconstruct their damaged home. This is open to anyone who lived in a damaged unit, regardless of ownership. For applications and additional information, contact Lutheran Social Services toll free at 1-855-706-7556 or visit the website at www.glo. index.html. Applications may also be found at the Bastrop office, College Street Suite D, Bastrop.

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Bastrop Advertiser Blue Moon  

One year later: A special section commemorating the largest wildfire in Texas history

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