Bastrop Blackened

Bastrop Blackened

We in Central Texas were witness to a historic conflagration just east of Austin over the Labor Day weekend. The trouble began sometime Sunday and spread rapidly through the Lost Pines, one of the most scenic areas nearby or anywhere. Because of the exceptional drought in this part of the world, humidity is exceedingly low. Ironically, tropical storm Lee that could have brought rain landed near New Orleans and instead caused brisk northeast winds. One small spark, one carelessly tossed cigarette butt, or any other heat source did this, and thousands of acres simply exploded like, well, wildfire.

Earlier that weekend, Lina and I had a marvelous experience at this year’s Kerrville Wine and Music Festival, enjoying the relatively cool nights that the northeast gusts provided. During the singing of the last song at the fest late Sunday, one of our friends said there was a fire in Bastrop. As I returned from Kerrville Monday afternoon, I could see several columns of smoke in the Hill Country and a huge wall of gray and black to the east. Firefighters all over were hampered by the breeze and the dry conditions and were not able to contain or control the situation for several days. Even as of this writing, a few areas still smolder.

I had just driven through that conifer forest late last month. The Lost Pines have always been special to me, being a cut-off remnant of the larger Piney Woods farther east. In addition to their beauty, the trees have provided lumber for scads of homes and businesses all over Austin for generations. The massive Doric columns supporting the Governor’s Mansion’s front porch are solid pine logs from 1856. More irony: those architectural elements almost burned when the house was vandalized in 2006.

The photo above, taken through the car window, shows what’s left of those woods. It was shot Saturday, September 10, just after Texas Highway 71 reopened. Lina and I were on our way to Columbus for her art opening, and we got to see the devastation for ourselves. Not one building, either business or residential, was left standing. The official count is somewhere around 1,400 homes gone. While most of the smaller junipers and pines were only charred stumps, I noticed that many of the taller pines still retained green tops. Given any rain, they might survive to help regrow this ravaged forest.

Until that happens, we seem to have lost the Lost Pines.