Helpful tents with water, food and clothing are installed by the highway, in parking lots and prefabricated buildings. People just pour in with stuff to give, and we did that too. It feels normal.
Insurance companies and lawyers are also very present with their advice and offers. The patrol cars of Texas Rangers block small roads and prowl for looters. The scene looks American. My American friend comments; there is some harsh eerie justice that Texas, the petroleum state, is so stricken by wildfires. George Bush’s war for oil still grinds on as his native soil is parched by global warming.
This is the true Texan stoic mentality, I am told; we hear no laments and see not a tear; just people waiting for the wind to turn, for the rain to fall.
As we walk the burned areas, as we crunch the crisp black grass, sometimes glimpsing burned cars and houses behind the police barricades, we notice that many trees have their crowns still intact. Sometimes the places of the worst distress have a weird beauty. A spinning ash devil swirls across the highway and blows off into the blackened woods, like some supernatural power. I manage to photograph it.
Six days after the first wildfires in a state park in Bastrop, smoke photographed from the orbiting Space Station has reached the Gulf of Mexico. Things have calmed, but nobody dares say that the fire season is over. There is no rain and no end to the drought predicted, while the sun glares fiercely and the temperatures rise yet again, here in our stricken part of the world.
Some call us “rubbernecks” because we choose to personally witness this vast public disaster. As we crunch over the cinders in our boots and hats, sipping bottled water and taking notes, people often kindly offer us help. Fires, wars and earthquakes don’t merely strike the rescue professionals, for disaster is part of the world that we experience. My own experience of disaster tells me that Texas will never be the same after this. This huge disaster is not nearly over yet, and four years of the last six have had bad droughts. This is the modern Texas, and to avoid it would be living a lie.
Almost 1400 houses have burned around Bastrop, two dead people. In the past week 179 fires burned over 170,686 acres. President Barack Obama on Friday night declared that a major disaster exists in central Texas. Those are facts, figures and official declarations, but we also have our own eyes.
I survived a war once, mostly through spreading and reading online information. Sometimes I got hate mail for doing that; it was called meddling in domestic issues, or using improper language, or comforting enemies, or mostly it was ignored, because nobody in my shattered region knew what email was.
Now I can see Facebook and other social media seething with this activity. Just people, saying what they see in their own lives:
“My son saw some pictures that somebody has on FB and it showed the front of his property of KC Drive intact!!! He doesn’t know when the pictures were taken or who took them. Is anyone aware of pictures of this type????”
“We are just off 290, 3 miles on Austin side of D.S. We have two spare bedrooms in our home, each with dedicated bathrooms, on 2 acres. We’d be pleased to take in a family who has lost their home in the recent fires.”
If we lose our property, homes cities and even our lives, we still have solidarity in tragedy. Adversity bares the human condition, and if there is hope, it is not because we are told that we should have hope, but because there is some human being who is hopeful.