Our Labor Day started out as a great day. Not just a great day but a really awesome beautiful day. For the first time since moving to Texas, we felt somewhat cooler weather and even felt wind and breezes flowing through the air. The temperature was in the 90′s and after months of over 100 degree temperatures, 90 degrees ironically seemed like a fall day. My mother-in-law was visiting us at our new house in San Antonio and we were having a fun time showing her the sights around town.
Later around noon, I got on Facebook and the day started to take a turn. I discovered that fires in Central Texas were raging and homes of friends I grew up with were all in jeopardy.
It was heartbreaking to see childhood friends in fear, praying and asking for help on Facebook. I felt so bad for everyone. My hometown is Lockhart, Texas and it is small town in central Texas. My parents still live nearby Lockhart and as horrible as the fires were, I was at least thankful they weren’t anywhere near my parent’s home.
Around 4pm, one of my sisters called me upset and told me my parents had just been evacuated. I told her not to worry because I had seen the reports and the fires were nowhere near our parent’s house. I called my dad and heard a completely different story than what I had heard on the news. He informed me there was a fire behind their home and they had been told they had 5 minutes to leave their neighborhood. My dad is made of steel and I couldn’t believe how his voice sounded. I could tell he was in shock and worried.
The fire happened so fast. My mom saw firemen running behind her house before she was given an evacuation notice from the sheriffs. One of the firemen yelled to her, “Ma’am, your property is on fire…please get out and get out now!”. She ran in to tell my dad but before she could sheriffs were at her door.
At those times you just grab what is important. Yourself. My mom only grabbed her purse and my dad grabbed his wallet and keys and they headed out the house. They didn’t have time to get clothes or family pictures.
They had to leave their home not knowing if it was ever the last time they would see it again. When they drove away down the road, they saw both their neighbor’s yards engulfed in smoke and flames. Reality sunk in. The chances of their house being saved was bleak. My parents live in a rural area where everyone has acres and acres of land. Their neighbors are close but not in the traditional sense. Each neighbor is a few acres away. You can see neighbor’s houses but it’s not like you can just take a quick stroll to them. The distance wasn’t comforting because all the land in between each house was like straw. The drought in Texas had taken it’s toll on the vegetation and everything was brown and crisp. The grass was highly flammable.
I felt so helpless. I wanted to help them and thought about driving to get them. However, I decided against it because I could not drive to an area that was being evacuated. Being on the road would just congest traffic and cause problems with those trying to leave. And it could be dangerous. I had hoped my parents would drive an hour and half to San Antonio and stay with me but instead they chose to drive out of the neighborhood but stay as close as possible to their land. I have never been put in that situation but I can imagine it is very hard to leave everything you own and hold dear. They parked their car on the road in a safe nearby area and just sat and waited. And waited. And waited. For endless hours. They could see down a hill and saw smoke building higher and higher where their house was.
I was obsessed with Facebook updates. I never thought I would get news reports off Facebook but it was the quickest and most accurate way to get information. I sat with my iPad just hitting refresh every few seconds on the Facebook Newsfeed. Boys I grew up are now firemen and I would see updates about them and about the fires. My parents live on a street called Longhollow and it was like being electrocuted every time I would see requests on Facebook for volunteer firemen to help assist with the “Longhollow fire” or status updates from other people that live in my parent’s neighborhood providing new information on the fire behind the “Walker’s house”. (Walker is my maiden name and my parent’s name). The whole thing was so surreal.
I felt so intensely guilty also. I had wanted my parents to move to a nicer house. You see our childhood home is old and not in the best condition. My sisters and I also tease my mom about being a hoarder. She isn’t a hoarder like shown on the television show Hoarders but she definitely needs to clean out a few rooms that are overloaded with craft supplies. My sisters and I were also very embarrassed of our house as children growing up. It always seemed like everyone else had a nicer house and ours was lacking in many ways. And then there we all were - both my sisters and I – hoping and praying that this house we gave so much criticism was okay. After all our history and the house’s faults…it was still OUR home. It was where we all grew up. It was where memories were made and most of all, it meant so much to my parents. And I knew losing it would be devastating to our parents. Sure they could buy a new house one day but being displaced for a year and losing everything you own is more than most people could bear. My parents are getting older and having to deal with a tragedy like this was more than they could handle.
I also felt guilty about enjoying all those cool breezes earlier in the day. Those winds had actually made the fire at my parent’s house and other fires in Texas much much worse. Here I was enjoying the day completely oblivious to others’ horrible tragedies.
Late at night…a miracle happened. After hours of sitting roadside, my parents were given the okay that their neighborhood could be returned and that their house was still standing. It was no doubt a miracle and one thing I’ll never understand but will be eternally grateful for. Somehow fire that was headed straight for my parent’s house was contained by extraordinary firemen. Their house was full of smoke and the land behind their house burned to a crisp… but my parent’s house as well as both their neighbor’s homes were saved. And all the other homes nearby were saved as well.
The area is still very dangerous and new fires popping up everywhere. Work crews cut down trees with chainsaws behind my parent’s house to build a safety line to help deter future spreading. Hopefully that helps and they stay safe.
The whole day was exhausting and stressful. One thing I will never forget is being overwhelmed by the support and comfort I received from friends and neighbors I had not seen in years. I simply posted a request for information about my parent’s neighborhood on Facebook and had a tremendous amount of concern and help from friends I had not seen or spoken to in over 20 years. Old friends called and emailed me with information. Several even drove by my parent’s house to check on them without me asking. I’m truly thankful for their actions.
It is amazing how people from my hometown stick together and help people out. It makes me proud to be from Texas. And proud to be back in Texas.
The fires are still raging in my parent’s area and all over central Texas. Even areas of Houston are being hit hard. The community of Bastrop next to my hometown has lost over 400 homes. Since this is a small town this is pretty much wiping out the entire town.
News reports are stating that over 1,000 homes in Texas have been lost and currently there are at least 50 fires that still need to be extinguished. This picture of the fires on the Austin skyline really puts things in perspective and shows the magnitude of the damage. The smoke behind the skyline is the Bastrop and Lockhart area.
My prayers and thoughts are with those families and anyone else being impacted by these fires. My thanks to the amazing firefighters out there. I can’t even imagine how hard this is for them to deal with.
All of the pictures were taken by my childhood friends that now still live in the Lockhart and neighboring Bastrop area. The Austin skyline picture which is courtesy of DeannaRoy.