September 4, 2012
We’ll never forget September 4, 2011.
We remember a windy, dry day. We imagine the spark. And we see again the horror and the flight as one of the worst fires in Texas history spread far and fast.
One year ago today, the Bastrop Fires began on a windy Sunday afternoon. They grew quickly over Labor Day, as dry drought conditions created the perfect storm.
Over several weeks, the fires consumed more than 34,000 acres and destroyed more than 1,600 homes. They caused the largest loss of property in Texas’ history – and the third-largest in the nation’s.
Before the fires, Bastrop State Park was among the jewels of our state parks system. By the time they were over, 96 percent of it was badly burned.
But the damage isn’t all we remember. The fires are also defined by the heroes who responded to them – emergency teams, city and county leaders, and thousands of volunteers who rallied to help the victims of the Labor Day fires. All told, they saved 1,213 homes and countless lives.
In Bastrop and across Central Texas, communities reacted quickly and with compassion. Within hours, the community response center was set up in the downtown Bastrop convention center. Volunteers staffed phones, helped share information and soon set up a tremendous donation center, managing food and supplies that rolled in from across the country. Companies and restaurants donated meals and supplies to first responders and volunteers. Lawyers from Austin and across the region organized pro bono legal aid centers to provide victims with valuable information as they faced uncertainty about their homes and property.
Now, Bastrop residents are recovering and the community is growing and prospering.
Families have returned to rebuild or restore their homes. Environmental and community advocates are recovering the unique loblolly pine forest.
And, with school back in session, children and teachers are moving forward too.
This weekend, the Bastrop community gathered to remember the tragedy and celebrate the recovery.
Yesterday, they celebrated the amazing first responders and firefighters with free lunches at every fire station in the county. The Bastrop YMCA and Friends of the Lost Pines State Parks also hosted the fun, first annual Burning Pine 5K/10K on Saturday. On Sunday, the community came together for a prayer service.
And tonight, the Bastrop County Long Term Recovery Team is hosting an event and fundraiser – “A Night of Hope” – to honor the community and look forward to the future. The fundraiser aims to raise enough money to build 36 new homes, and the team also will collect donations of non-perishable food items.
Finally, this weekend marks the grand re-opening of Bastrop State Park. The park is a true Texas treasure – I’m looking forward to getting back out there this fall, and I hope you will too.
Last year’s fires were a massive tragedy; they’re now part of our history. But they also brought the region together and produced countless heroes.
So we remember the devastation of last year, of course. We always will. But we’ll also never forget that this community and all of the region showed us their best a year ago. That indomitable good is the legacy of the fires, and it’s the foundation for Bastrop’s bright future.