Friday, September 9, 2011

Bastrop Fire 2011

As of last Sunday, Texas was currently in the middle of the worst drought in 100 years. 80+ days of 100 degree or above temperatures. -And my parents live in the middle of a pine forest, rendered a veritable tinderbox by the drought. Concern for fire was high, and Sunday the inevitable happened. Several miles south of my parents home, a fire ignited- sparking a firestorm that would ultimately become 24 miles long, and 20 miles wide. A fire so large, you could see it from space. (picture below) Mom and Dad heard a knock on the door- a fireman asking them to leave immediately. Not soon. Not eventually. Right now. Mom grabbed her dog Woody, and her laptop. They left without clothes, medicine, or any essentials. Certainly no photo albums, nor keepsakes.. They gathered in the parking lot of a store, in a safe area of town, along with other members of their ward. As the night dragged on, families split off to go stay with relatives, or find lodging somewhere safe. Not until next day dawned, did anyone comprehend the size and scope of how large this fire had become. My parents drove about 20 miles north to stay with my sister Catherine, and have been there ever since. News reporting was spotty, to say the least, and the information that was reaching people was vague and upsetting. "Fire is 0% contained" is something that makes your stomach sink. As the days dragged on, my parents and the rest of us came to grips with the fact that the house was no longer there. Eyewitness reports from anywhere close to their area said that "there's nothing left." Below is a photo taken from a hard-hit area near my parents subdivision: People are so anxious to return, and I'm not sure there's anything that could prepare you for a sight like the one above. The beautiful pine trees that the residents cherish in this area are utterly destroyed.

As people waited desperately for information, a Facebook phenomenon happened. Several pages dedicated to sharing information were formed out of necessity. A person here and a person there knew someone in a position of authority that would be willing to check on a certain house. This trickle of information started on Facebook, and a few good firefighters and authorities took their own time to canvas neighborhoods to report on the few structures still standing. Thousands of people joined these pages, and my brother and sister and I became (almost obsessively) involved in getting this information cross-posted and shared with residents. We became acquainted with so many neighbors and friends, and formed a tight-knit community dedicated to taking care of and supporting each other. I personally pored over list after list trying to help residents determine if their home was still standing. I'm sad and sick that I was the one to share devastating news with so many people- not just on my parents street, but in the several neighborhoods surrounding them. To date, over 1600 homes have burned. The worst loss in Texas history. More incredible to me is that this fire was only national news for the first two days. The suffering and needs of these families are great, and it's now a struggle to find anything but local Austin news coverage of it.

Finally, Tuesday night a miracle happened. The bishop was able to gain access with law enforcement and check on my parents house. You've never heard such sweet words as "it's still there!" The real miracle is trying to comprehend how a fire 20 miles wide parted like the Red Sea, and spared a single house. The neighboring houses are all gone. Before I show you a picture of the house, let me show you their street- you may see trees in the photos, but the homes and structures underneath are all burned out:

How is it possible that this house survived?

It wasn't without damage, but it's still standing. And that's an answer to many many anguished prayers. The workshop is gone, as are the sailboat and camper. Basically, anything that was on the property that wasn't the house itself is gone. There will be a lot of work to do on the house itself, but structurally it's still sound.

Residents still are not allowed access, and the power to this poor little house isn't scheduled to be back on for another 3 weeks. I see a new refrigerator in Mom's future! I'm glad I won't be the one cleaning that out....

Ultimately, this has been a week of many emotions. I've been devastated, worried, and sick to my stomach. Since helping others with the information effort, I've felt compassion and pity. In trying to wrap my brain around the sheer miracle and blessing of it all, I've been overcome with gratitude and humility. Not to mention, sheer relief and elation! Also, a renewed resolve to put my own affairs in order, so that my own little family will be better prepared in an emergency situation.

As a side note, it's tempting to think that maybe my parents were spared because of great faith, or the power of prayer. And while this could possibly be true in their case, most of the families in their ward were not so lucky. Sadly, a very large percentage lost their homes. Adversity and trials come to us all, and I'll be grateful if I never have to see such a trial as losing everything.

Thank you to everyone who hung in there with our family, and prayed so fervently for a good outcome. What tremendous and wondrous blessings our family has experienced this week! (I'm exhausted!)



Kim and Ken Carlile said...

That is so terribly sad. While very relieved for your parents our prayers continue for them and the others affected.

Eva said...

Oh My! Elisa that is such great news. What a great miracle!

Gail said...

That's amazing.

I went into labor while evacuated from a much smaller fire and got frustrated because the Bastrop fires were dominating the news.

Your story really helps put mine into perspective.