To the Editor:
I believe firmly in the power of people and trust individuals but I have always doubted government. So when the Bush Administration responded to Sept 11, 2001 by creating Homeland Security, I doubted. The inept, non-response by the federal government to Katrina and the problems along the Southeast Gulf Coast only fueled my doubt. But I have to sing out about the remarkable response and ability of the emergency teams who saved my home, the homes of my family and neighbor this week.
My husband and I got a call around 5 p.m. Tuesday evening that my family ranch was on fire. My sister-in-law called first and then my father. Both reported that my home – the northern most on our place – seemed remote from the threat of the fire but that my brother’s home was in imminent danger. As we both work in Austin, we were picking up our son from school on the Southwest Parkway when we got this call. As we topped the next hill at AMD, we could see the plume of smoke from the ranch and followed that ominous cloud the entire way home. Our fears and tension built as we neared the fire seeing the awesome height of the plume and smelling the smoke from miles away. As we were 2 miles from home, we could see the helicopters that were dropping water on the blaze. Pulling into our place, we could see fire fighters beginning to battle the blaze in the pastures and hill side to the south of us. As we got home, 3 neighbors immediately pulled in to help us by pulling out shovels, opening up all water hoses and moving the horses from my place. We all broke into frenzied, unplanned work to prepare for a fire heading rapidly toward my home.
The first word we got was that my brother’s home had been saved though his office building containing all his personal collections and his journals of 20 years of rock and mountain climbing had been destroyed. He, his wife and kids were not home so I knew they were safe but they were desperately afraid for their 3 dogs. The next day I saw that the fire had reached the wall of his children’s rooms when the fire fighters stopped it. The emergency responders had already stopped the fire from reaching my parents home by plowing a line about a quarter mile from their hill top. But now the fire was moving in the direction of our home and our neighbor’s. The emergency personnel were beginning to flock in our direction. Things began to happen so quickly. Two neighbors helped us remove a painting of our dogs and beloved horses along with my grand-father’s pictures and notes. We sent our son and dogs to our neighbors home and began working in earnest to prepare for the fire. I ran from place to place not knowing what to do next as the fire approached. We could begin to feel the cool afternoon turn warm from the flames.
I have the most vivid picture in my head of the last 10 minutes I thought I would spend at my home. We live on a hill top directly west of Shovel Mountain in north east Blanco County. Last summer the Hill Country had such torrential rains. We are about 12 miles from Marble Falls where 24 inches of rain were reported in a 24 hour period. So the grass from the summer was very high. The hill top to the south of me was filled with cleared cedar brush piles as well as the shoulder-high blue stem all acting as fuel for the flames. Like a scene from a movie, I saw flames that were at least 30 feet in the air just south of my drive. My husband was driving the plow in an arc between the fire and our home while a helicopter dropped water on the blaze. I was in my side yard flanked by two dear friends – each of us with a water hose running in our hands trying to dampen the yard. I could see the emergency vehicles running up and down my drive which was still between us and the fire. At this moment we were told that we needed to evacuate. I rushed to my barn to lead my horses into my neighbor’s pasture assuring the emergency workers that we could all drive out through my neighbors pasture to the northwest. Unknown to me, the fire was coming to his home and through his pastures as well. As we drove off my hill through the back way, I could see the flames above the hill and believed that I wouldn’t see my home again. From there we simply drove to safety and waited for the fire fighters to handle something that was far beyond our control.
The response from neighbors was terrific and I am so grateful for their love and help. My dear friends the Stephensons and Jason and Elizabeth Bradner worked with us through it all. They held our hands, took in our son and dogs, drove from point to point with us all the while praying for all to be safe and our home to be spared. I saw another neighbor, Ralph Ebbling from Round Mountain at my gate and my neighbor’s gate just there to help direct the emergency responders. The care and thoughtfulness of those friends and neighbors are wonderful. I was getting calls and emails from friends with prayers and offers of help. We didn’t know at the time that those prayers had been answered already by the emergency response teams.
The Round Mountain Volunteer Fire Department was the first on the scene. But there must have been over 40 different jurisdictions that responded to help battle the fire from Johnson City and nearby Spicewood to Lake Travis and Cedar Park. Hundreds of others helped work into the night and the next day. Williamson County sent an emergency response team with a full command center equipped with satellite communications. I understand that the command center was very ably led by fire fighters from Utah who were stationed in the Hill Country ready for this type of disaster. The Round Mountain Volunteer Fire Department Chief, Allen Harrison, and his wife, Connie, worked with dogged dedication throughout the evening. Allen ended up staying in his vehicle at my home all night to watch for outbursts. I saw him from time to time throughout the next day as he continued to fight this fire going into 24 hours. We saw vehicles, plows and men from all over the area and as far away as the Alabama Forrest Service. The Forrest Service fire fighters worked into Wednesday afternoon to keep the fire from jumping from my front pasture across Shovel Mountain Road to the next ranches.
The coordinated and effective action of all these dedicated people saved the homes of my parents, my brother, my neighbor as well as mine. From what I could tell at a distance and while very panicked, they used technology and equipment but primarily their training and dedication to accomplish these miracles. What started from a plow tyne sparking off a rock in the pasture burned, by my estimate, about 700 to 800 acres and threatened 4 homes and livestock. The emergency responders did what I feared was not possible. I am so grateful to them and must say that in addition to doing their work very well, they have showed themselves to be very good promotion for their respective departments. They showed this skeptic of government that their emergency response teams could protect my home. I thank you all for that.
Cypress Mill, Texas