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July 8, 2011 / Dave Gorham

Drought, Wind, Wildfire, Memories – A First-Hand Account

Today a guest post from ImpactWeather VP IT Kyle Tupin on recent wildfire recovery efforts in southeast Texas.  Kyle is a 1980 meteorology graduate of Texas A&M and a 30-year veteran of ImpactWeather and iSifting through the ashes.  All photos: Kyle Tupints parent company.

It seems the topic of conversation lately in this part of the country always drifts to “when do you think we’ll get any rain,” especially when someone finds out I’m a meteorologist.  The ongoing drought throughout Texas has had many after-effects, one of which I was recently able to observe personally.

For many years I’ve volunteered for disaster relief work through my church.  Our team has responded to ice storms, tornadoes, floods and most recently the fires that began on Father’s Day in Grimes County, which is about 70 miles northwest of Houston.  Over 5,000 acres of pine and hardwood forests in that area were consumed in the fires and more than 50 homes were lost.  As we’ve already seen in many regions of the country, the combination of drought, high wind and an errant spark make the perfect recipe for a wildfire.

There are two disaster relief units associated with my church – chainsaw and clean-out.  It was the clean-out unit that was called into service last Wednesday to help the fire victims of Grimes and Brazos counties sift through their ashes to recover anything recognizable and also clean up their property so they could start rebuilding.

For the most part the landscape was surreal, with black charred trees standing like sentinels, most without any foliage, watching over a grey ash landscape.   You can’t imagine how sterile the ground looks when it is void of all grass, weeds and underbrush until you’ve seen it.

Skid steer removing debris.

As our team drove into the area, we noticed that you could see one house standing alone and untouched, while next door just a few yards away only the obvious remains of another.  In many cases, only a few unrecognizable pieces of metal were left.

When we arrived at the first site, the skid steer operators were already hard at work moving larger pieces of metal and even cars into a pile for salvage.  Skid steers are handy machines for this type of work, often used at construction sites for excavating and other heavy tasks.  When they were done, we took screen wire frames and started shoveling ashes to sift through and find items for the homeowners.  We were able to find a few items of value but mostly only melted glass and globs of once molten metal now in unrecognizable form.

Hot, dirty work but well worth the effort.

While it is hot and dirty work, no one really thinks about it; we kept working until the job was done.  After all, some of these people have lost everything . . . some even without insurance.  The work is over for our clean-out team and all the other volunteers.  We’ve returned to our homes and to our comfortable, everyday lives.  But the tragedy continues for the victims of these Southeast Texas wildfires. Unfortunately, most victims are living with friends, relatives or even some still in shelters as they try to reclaim their property and rebuild their lives.  Yes, the rains will come again but the consequences have been and will be far reaching for many people.

 

Thousands of acres, all devastated.

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