By: Michael Gardner
On September 4th, massive wildfires broke out across Central Texas. The worst of these was in Bastrop Texas, burning more than 38,000 acres and destroying over 1,700 homes (just in Bastrop!). More than 5,000 residents had to be evacuated. On Sep. 12th, 670 families were able to go back to their properties. For most, this would be the first time that they would see what had happened to their homes. The City of Bastrop asked the Austin Disaster Relief Network to have a CISM (Critical Incident Stress Management) team of about 50 people there for the affected families and to drive throughout the neighborhoods to comfort, debrief and love the families.
We met outside the disaster zone at 8AM, got a debrief from Daniel Geraci (Director of ADRN) and prayed. We were then given instructions on what streets we would cover and given boxes of N95 masks and water. At 9:45, with hazard lights flashing, about 12 vehicles rolled out with a police escort into the evacuated zone, doing 75 in a 60 zone, with guard rails that had been burned to the ground. Around 10AM we got to the gas station and set up a command tent. At 10:15 families starting arriving and getting permits to see their properties. At 10:20 we were given a placard by the police to place on our dashboards because of the strict checkpoints at every neighborhood entrance.
We then drove CISM teams of 2 to the first street and dropped them off when we got to a house with people that were sifting through rubble. Taking the next CISM team of 2 to the next street. At noon I got the ok to take photos within the disaster zone. Driving around was just amazing, very little was untouched by the fire. There were no street signs, as the aluminum signs had melted. If a little breeze came up it would blow clouds of ash around.
We met a wonderful little 90 year old lady that lost her home. When we were there, her family found a locket in the rubble that belonged to her late sister. I snapped a photo of her holding the locket up to show us. We also met a 19 year old who drove 90 miles an hour from Austin to get home, just in time to rush into his already burning house. He was able to kick in the garage door and rescue his 3 dogs, while the kitchen was collapsing around him. He and his family lost everything, but he is thankful that his family is safe.