We don't need no water....

For the past week, there have been massive fires surrounding Austin.  I've never seen with my own eyes the level of devestation this blaze has left in it's path.  Unfortunately, the drought and heat left Central Texas in perfect condition for a wildfire.  Which totally happened.  At one point, Austin was completely surrounded.  The biggest blaze was in Bastrop and for days (three, to be exact) the fire was 0% contained.  Which is a stupid phrase, if you ask me, but as I learned more about wildfires, it made sense.  There were 200+ firefighters fighting this Bastrop fire, not to mention how many were up in Steiner Ranch (which lost 25 houses and 360 acres), Pflugerville and Cedar Park.  The Bastrop fire is now 50% contained, with over 34,000 acres destroyed and over 1,000 homes gone as well.  The fires broke out over Labor Day weekend.  I didn't know about them until Tuesday when I went to my internship (YES! I got an internship!!With The Bobby Bones Show.  Syndicated in four states, and holy crap this will look good on a resume! That's another story, though). 

Tuesday morning I was in the studio with the Hosts (Bobby, Carlos, Lunchbox, Amy and Alayna).  They sent three interns out to the WalMart by the studio to collect water and Gatorate for the firefighters.  They had taken three truckloads to a food bank already, and by the time the show ended and the rest of the interns showed up, there had to be at least 1,000 cases of water and gatorade.  We filled up a truck-bed and eight cars with the fluid.  We made a caravan on the way to unload all of it.  Every single one of us helped, trying to show our support for those trying to put out the uncontrollable fire.  I mean, It's almost a week later and it's ONLY 50% contained.  The fire has spread out to Lockhart, which is 30 miles from where the blaze originally started.  We filled up seven pallets five feet high with water and Gatorade donations.  I mean, it's a ton of stuff.

I was allowed to go out to Bastrop on Friday and Saturday to staff the Bastrop Home Depot.  That was a humbling experience, let me tell you.  I wanted to hug every single person, cry with them, take them home and give them a hot meal.  The Red Cross came out on Friday to put together clean-up buckets (some people were being let back into their neighborhoods, but not many).  All together we gave out over 1,000 buckets, and we hand-made sifters as well.  Some people came through absolutely in tears, others were so jovial still, saying that it was just stuff.  Others apologized for their messy cars as I loaded them up, saying, 'We've been living out of it...and this is our home right now'.  There were others that came through the line with nothing.  I loaded up one car with his bucket, sifter, shovel and rake, put it in the trunk.  He had about six picture frames in the back, and I asked if he wanted me to put them in the bucket so they wouldn't break.  He said Yes, and Thank You, that was all he could save from his house before it went up in flames, and he cherished those six pictures.  So many people had stories just like that.  Others were so happy, saying we were doing a great thing and they were so grateful that we were doing this for them.  They said that this meant a lot that we were willing to help out.  Then there were those people who had worked their whole lives for that house, and they lost it all, but were in such good graces becase, 'it's just stuff, it doesn't matter, we can always get more stuff.  We're okay, our kids are okay, and that's all that matters'.  This is farmland, too.  So many people had pastures and horses.   Most of the animals got out okay, and they're still finding others. 

One man sticks out in my memory completely.  He pulled up in his Chevy and on his shirt it said 'Mackinac Island' with a picture of a carriage on it.  I handed him the bucket and said, 'Woohoo! Mackinac Island! I'm from there! Well, Michigan...not the island.'  He smiled and said, 'Well, this is a donated shirt, so...' and he drifted off.  My heart absolutely sunk, realizing that he had nothing, and told him the shirt looked really good on him.   My job was keeping moral up, not bringing people down.  As much as I felt bad and was shocked at my surroundings, I didn't let it show.  Not until a woman came up to me and when I asked if she needed help finding anything, she started crying and said, 'everything'. 
She was pulling into the Home Depot parking lot and saw two firetrucks racing down her daughters road.  Little fires keep popping up here and there, and she was scared that for her daughter.  I gave her a hug.  It was instinctive, and we sat there talking.  She has seven kids, and their house was one of the first to go up in flames.  They know they have no home to go back to, and she was very angry.  Her mom and sister were evacuated, and they were complaining about it.  She has nothing, and hasn't complained once.  I couldn't even imagine.  That's what people need, though.  Some to tell their stories, others to have a joke told to them.  They need support.  I'm a one woman support team.  I talked to her and her children (once they came in) for about an hour.  We picked out new house layouts, and she started looking at the upsides and stopped worrying about her daughter (the fire was put out really quick, and everything was alright).  When she left she gave me another hug and told me I was just a doll.  She thanked me for everything, when really she had nothing to thank me for at all.  I was just an ear.

It's amazing to see the whole community coming together. People up north in Austin (which is 30 minutes away from Bastrop) are housing complete strangers' animals.  The Animal Shelter is holding animals until owners can come and get them.  We had one man call the Radio Station on Tuesday and offer his ranch in N. Austin.  Gave his phone number and address saying 'to call if you need animals housed'.  He called back within 45 minutes saying he was full and couldn't take anymore...he lived on 2,500 acres.  Donation centers are filled to the brim and can't hold any more stuff.  Home Depot has been amazing at donating materials, and people have been so grateful.  It's amazing to see that just giving them a shovel and a pair of gloves (which is the minimum when we ran out of supplies) brightened their day.  It's September 11th today, and although what happened 10 years ago is still fresh and stings, we need to take care of what is happening in our own backyard right now.  FEMA is came in on Tuesday, and people are starting to regroup and get back on their feet.  The fire isn't even completely out yet, only 50% contained, and they're still trying to make the most of it.  So here's to them, they're troopers, and I have a lot of respect for them, because they lost everything, yet those people are still happy and making the best of everything.  I hope I can be like that if anything disasterous ever happens to me.  They're an inspiration.