Texas in Flames

It's Labor Day.

We woke this morning with the smell of fire in North Austin. During the night 300 houses were consumed by wildfire, west of the town of Bastrop. We decided to visit the flames: we put our boots on and hit the road with an iPhone, iPad, and an iMac. Thank you Jobs.

Witnessing the places of disaster is the best way of coping with fear and anxiety. After months of severe drought in Texas, and record temperatures almost every day and up to 112 F, massive wildfire was only to be expected. Climate change activists are angry with the denial of history and science, fossil politics, fossil corporations.

As we approach the growing disaster area, we see the cars of refugees, trucks, tractors fleeing a wall of smoke. An old black settler tells us: never seen a drought like this in my life, born here raised here… Reminds me of numerous refugees flows I saw in war zone areas: same blank frightened faces, and a stubborn will not to depart from the scene of crime.

An agitated girl approaches the police car that blocks off a back road: I must go in there, I have a dog…after a pause she says in a lower voice, and a house…

Everybody around here has a house. They are drinking beer in a local roadside bar under the smoke volcano. Everyone has a mobile phone. There is air conditioning and sports on TV.

The local radio is reporting on needs of fire refugees, electricity repairs and the merciless weather. Nobody knows if this outbreak of fire is going to last a day, a week… We gaze around the horizon and count the columns of smoke rising, east, west, south.

My American friend looks at the ranches around us, remembering his dad's land and how Texas ranchers always fret over the skies for their crops. But this new war with unnatural nature looks like Kuwait aflame during the Gulf War. Federal airplanes and helicopters are like gnats against the smoke plumes.

Don't trespass, warns a sign on the barbed wire: my American friend risks the thousand dollar fine to get a good shot of the sixteen-mile smoke panorama. High tech surveillance choppers supervise the endangered territory. They dump huge buckets of water on long swaying cables. I carefully study the pane of glass in my palm and learn how to tweet an Instagram.

As 9/11 approaches its 10th anniversary I think how much the world has changed. Disaster scenes are the new normality: with blurry but efficient technologies that witness the death of progress, the denial of science.

PHOTOS: Bruce Sterling.

Jasmina Tesanovic is an author, filmmaker, and wandering thinker who shares her thoughts with BoingBoing from time to time. Email: politicalidiot at yahoo dot com. Her blog is here.


  1. Apparently God doesn’t listen to Perry’s prayers or those of his supporters.  Perhaps it is time for President Obama to pay another visit. (Last time he visited Texas had widespread rain.)

    1. I’d suggest reading your link; 1885 wasn’t a drought, just the date when they started keeping track. Also, refer to the number of times your link says “hottest on record…”

    2. According to your link, I’ve a nitpick: there does not appear to have been a drought in 1895.  “The 10 months from October 2010 through July 2011 have been the driest for that 10-month period in Texas since 1895, when the state began keeping rainfall records.”

      Also, that there have been *other* droughts doesn’t address whether or not climate change is at play.  The worrying part is that we’re having *another* drought here (seems like a summer habit), and that it is officially the worst (it’s set every record we have for things like this, and in some cases, by an eyebrow-raising amount.  ).

    3. Lets keep it simple. At the very least the water used to fight these fires is scarce. And that is peoples fault. Many of us believe, additionally, that the evidence indicates that these inevitable happenings are becoming more frequent, coupled with an increase in energy in the atmosphere. The atmosphere currently has about 6% (maybe it was 4%) more water vapor in it than it ought to have, based on the geological record prior to humanities efforts to remove carbon from the ground and liberate it into the atmosphere.

      If facts seem ridiculous, then go ahead an ridicule them. Ridicule only reduces the popularity of a fact, and your own reliability when your ignorance is borne out.

      We’re not angry at anyone. We’re begging you to wake up before you kill your own grandchildren.

      1. OK, please tell me. Wake up and do what?
        The climate is changing, so what do we do? Please tell us!
        Denial or acceptance, does it matter? Will agreeing with your philosophy suddenly reverse what you perceive to be happening?

        1. There’s no point now – even if we reduced our carbon emissions to zero, the world will still continue to warm due to the enormous thermal inertia of the oceans. These conditions of drought are the new normal, and will only get worse through the decades. As James Lovelock says, enjoy what time we have.
          We waited too long. The Copenhagen Conference was really our last chance for change. If we do our best now at emission reductions and geoengineering, we will still exceed the safe limit for civilization. If we don’t we will probably be completely wiped out by 2050 due to global desertification and heatwaves. Since there is no plausible way of reducing our global emissions by 90% by 2030, I just don’t see what we can do besides relocate to the northern boreal forest.

          1. You do not have northern boreal forests and what there is is part of the sovereign nation of Canada. You keep out of our boreal forests. They are being damaged badly enough by mining the tar sands and running pipelines through them so Americans can continue to have cheap gas for their cars. They and the rain forests create most of our oxygen. Just don’t even look at Canada and think you have a right to do in my country what you have done internationally and in your own country. We are a mild mannered people who prefer to negotiate rather than obliterate. We also ramp up fast and hard when it is a moral battle rather than just another interference by the US in some pitiful country. Two sets of my great grandparents and my grand parents homesteaded here. I would go to the barricades as would most of us if you come up here looking to grab land and water. 

          2. Read “The Windup Girl.” Yeah, it’s fiction, and it’s dystopian, but there are a multitude of plausible scenarios beyond “probably be completely wiped out.” Which, by the way, kind of contradicts relocating to the northern boreal forest, doesn’t it?

            And I was into apocalypse before it was cool. So step off.

          3. There’s a fire, then there’s a fire that we continue to pour gasoline onto.  Which increases the likelihood of survival of our species?

        2. Wow, what a great attitude.  “There’s no problem and even if there was it’s not my fault and even if it is why should I have to do anything about it?”

          It’s pretty easy to come up with a concrete and actionable list of ways to get your carbon footprint to about 50% of the average American without seriously impacting your quality of life.  In fact, walking instead of driving and eating vegetarian would probably improve most people’s quality of life instead of reducing it in the first place.

          1.  My “footprint” is about as small as an Americans can get ( I live in a moderate climate, no ac, limited heat. I drive less than 1000 miles per year, walk many miles a day, grow much of my own food) but I believe climate change is natural, and that we should be dealing with the results not blaming people and pointing fingers. However, I am still not seeing anything to get concerned about .

            And anyway, it seems most of those that believe in ACC still haven’t done any of the things you suggest, even though they DO believe it is their fault, so why should I?

            What is wrong with the belief that I can’t do anything because it is natural, other than not agreeing with you? Why is that a bad attitude? It is a bad attitude because it is not yours.
            For a moment, imagine that cc is natural. Let it roll around in your head; feel what your attitude is now..because it is..

          2. If you keep the belief to yourself and continue to leave a small footprint there is nothing wrong with being quiet and going about your life. If you are influencing others in this delusion then it is a problem. This is one of those situations where if you believe it is happening and live accordingly and it is not true then nothing is lost. If a person willfully goes against science and encourages other to be so profligate with our resources and it turns out the science was true then we are doomed. I also leave a small footprint. I don’t own a car despite the fact that I cannot get into the wilderness without it and I only feel whole and safe deep into the Rocky Mountains. I also live in what some might call a Moderate climate and those are the ones that will likely last the longest. None-the-less, the climate is different than it was when I grew up and is damaging the ability of farmers to grow. I am lucky. I am just a couple of hundred miles down stream from rapidly melting glaciers so we will last a little longer than Texas despite a superficial resemblance to it.

          3. What is wrong with the belief that I can’t do anything because [climate change] is natural, other than not agreeing with you?

            Well, what’s wrong is that you are, in point of fact, wrong. Climate change may be “natural”, but this latest episode, induced by humans, has a decidedly unique aspect: the rate at which it is happening.

            Now, as someone with a geology background, I don’t say something’s unique very often. There’s pretty much nothing new under the sun on this planet. But the rate of human injection of CO2 into the atmosphere is, apparently, novel. There have been a few instances of massive CO2 injections, but they’ve tended to occur at what one might call “geologic” rates — that is, really slow.

            Having said that, we might have one analogue with a similar rate of greenhouse gas injection: that at the Paleocene – Eocene boundary, the result of which was the Eocene warm period. Methane seems to have caused that incident, and I’m pretty sure we don’t understand why it happened.

            If we’ve got the physics right, and our analogues from the past are right (e.g., the Miocene warm period), we’re just at about the amount of CO2 injection that we’re going to see a state change out of the pattern that has dominated since the beginning of the Pleistocene, and into something else. I’d say that’s impressive work for an overgrown rodent (H. sapiens).

            I should add one other thing: the rate of climate change in what we might now call the Anthropocene is significant, to me at least, not because billions of humans may starve, or because H. sapiens is endangered (I doubt it!), but because human fragmentation of habitat coupled with the extremely high rate climate change means that we’ll probably enter into a mass extinction (which one might define as something like elimination of 30% or more of all species). Why? Because although living organisms can adapt to climate change, they need either to evolve or to migrate in order to do so. If climate changes too quickly, and if habitat is fragmented, as now it is by human land use patterns, many species will not  survive.

            Causing a mass extinction is pretty impressive, too. Global extinctions usually bracket geologic time periods, they make convenient places to draw the boundaries. Cambrian, Ordovician, Silurian, Devonian…they’re all bracketed by some fairly impressive die-offs. But, not to worry, the phyla tend to repopulate themselves within 10 million years or so.
            I guess none of that’s very reassuring, is it? Sorry. Never ask a geologist to empathize with a species’ foibles. Screwing up the environment is a rather common phenomenon.

            But, “natural”? I’m still scratching my head over that one…

          4. [this isn’t a rant at you perchecreek, just a continuation of your comment]
              Natural? Yes, absolutely. To paraphrase author Robert A. Heinlein; When beavers build dams for beaver purposes, its viewed as ‘natural’. But when humans build a dam for human purposes its viewed as ‘unnatural’. [And therefore a ‘crime against nature’]
              Well, guess what folks H. Sapiens Sapiens is NOT an alien invasive species [neither intercontinental or interplanetary], we’re from here… earth. We share the same chemistry as every other living thing on the planet. We are part of the planetary biosphere.
              That being said, we are also a very prolific omnivore scavenger/predator species, and like many, many of the same type of species [rats come to mind] we foul our environment. 
              Not unnatural. Rats, goldfish/carp, yeast to name a few all outgrow their environment. 
              Its not good, but its the nature of the species. Can anything be done to change it? I doubt it, some of the best archaeology is done in a civilization’s trash heaps, so we’ve been doing it for at least 150,000 years. The leopard can’t change its spots… We are what we are.
              Individuals can try and do their best and I applaud your efforts. But to expect the human species to change because idealists [right or wrong, I don’t know] preach the dangers of ACC/AGW is naive at best. 
               We who sit in our cozy family/bed/living rooms or offices and pontificate about this, need to step out of our ‘comfort zones’. Daily life on planet earth is about survival. Period. 
              A goodly portion of humans on the planet are in a daily struggle to survive, either individually or familially. Do you think a guy worried about whether or not he can feed his children today really gives a rat’s ass about the environment and whether or not his ‘carbon footprint’ is within acceptable limits? He might care about the other theme prevalent in this thread, politics, but only so far as his imminent survival is concerned.
              Perchecreek is right about mass extinctions, it has happened before and it will happen again. Causes are irrelevant, there have been many. 
              We who have the leisure and means to comment here [yours truly included] are all full of shit. Real easy to preach and rant, because you can. When you can convince the entire species of Homo Sapiens Sapiens to change to your worldview, only then will you have moved from ‘full of shit’ to successful.You must excuse me if I don’t hold my breath until that happens.
              So to conclude, the original topic was the fires in Texas. Let’s get back on point.

          5. Can anything be done to change it? I doubt it, some of the best archaeology is done in a civilization’s trash heaps, so we’ve been doing it for at least 150,000 years. The leopard can’t change its spots… We are what we are.

            Individuals can try and do their best and I applaud your efforts. But to expect the human species to change because idealists [right or wrong, I don’t know] preach the dangers of
            ACC/AGW is naive at best. 

            This is ridiculous, equivocal claptrap. The data says overwhelmingly that we are causing global warming by rapidly injecting fossil carbon
            into the atmosphere, and the analogues from the geologic record are clear on what happens when atmospheric chemistry is altered in this way. This is a policy issue; that is, we must decide collectively to act. Nations can establish and enforce laws to stop fossil CO2 injection into the atmosphere. It may be expensive and difficult to do, but we have to
            do it. We’ve done it many times before — with CFCs, and with many other environmental threats.

            I do apologize if my previous comment gave the impression that I was in any way siding with the argument that because climate change is somehow “natural” or “ordinary”, therefore we are absolved of culpability, and excused from action. In fact, I was attempting to argue the opposite: that human caused global warming is a geologically extraordinary event.

          6. Thanks, Daniel, for stating what I was about to in reply to Sarah Shevett’s comments. There are so many simple changes each of us can make to reduce our level of consumption. We don’t have to be perfectly “green” — it’s impossible anyway — but we can make some basic changes that not only reduce _our_ negative affect on _our_ environment(s), but that will increase _our_ quality of life.

            Come to think of it, the quality of life aspect (i.e., that we can significantly increase it if many more of us make some simple lifestyle changes) seems to be the most overlooked of any in regards to how we affect our environments (natural and built). However, based upon the frequent hostility I experience in my daily life from folks such as Sarah, I feel like we unfortunately may have to go deeper on our current path before we hit rock bottom (meaning before we wake up on a more massive scale to what we’re doing to ourselves — the Earth will heal itself over time, particularly after we’ve left it entirely) before some significant changes are made from a large(r) percentage of people.

            Regardless, best wishes (for healing and recovery) to those folks in Texas whose homes and loved ones have been lost.

        3. Here’s what I did.

          Stop driving so much. Stop buying so much. Stop travelling so much. Learn how much energy your activities use, and stop making excuses for why your own selfishness is okay.Buy locally. Don’t eat strawberries in December. Plant a garden. No more cut flowers. Turn off any show where people are yelling at each other and then trying to sell you security. Demand a carbon tax.

          Recognize that quality of life is not measured by the size or number of vehicles in your driveway, nor by the size of your 16-year olds birthday party.

        4. Acceptance of reality allows us to change the course of history by changing our individual life styles.  Instead of driving that Tahoe to work, ride a bike.  The more people who do it, the bigger the impact will be.  This takes planning of course.  Live close enough to work to bike, and get your basic needs locally.  Get your food from local organic gardeners instead of trucked halfway across the world from some big-agro corporation.  These are little changes that we can all make that would make a big difference.

    4. Fred, the drought has happened before.  The temperatures are records.  The two together make the fires worse.

    5. Suppose there IS a question about climate change. Wouldn’t you rather err on the side of caution, on the maybe, just maybe it’s real? Then if it’s not — Hallelujah! We can have the biggest darned fossil fuel-driven bonfire in history and make s’mores. But if it is, if human activity really is causing climate change, maybe something can be done about it before it’s too late.

      1. Too late for what? If too many people are the problem then you all should be all for it, right?
        Are people bad/ evil/ destroying everything or are people good/ must be saved/ every human is important?

        Civilisations and species have appeared and disappeared since time began and always will.
        Humans are natural.

    6. if your doctor told you,”you might have cancer”, would you say, “naaah, there’s nothing wrong with me” and just leave it at that?  or would you do everything you could to find out and to stop it?  the environment is more important than your health, or mine, and it sure as hell deserves to be given every scientific test and bit of relief we can give it by being smarter, not snugger.

  2. Is this serious? I live in Austin. Yesterday I drove through thick smoke on my way back from Houston. These fires suck. It’s terrible for those affected. But comparing it to war zones, 9/11, and the Gulf War is simply ridiculous.

    1. Is this serious?
      With more than 700 homes burned to the ground so far and it’s still not contained I’d say the answer to your question is a firm “yes”.

  3. Fires, drought, plagues of grasshoppers and lakes turning blood red… sounds pretty frickin’ biblical to me.

    Not to be unsympathetic but if Katrina wiped out N’Awlins because of a Gay Pride Parade, what the hell did Texas do to incur such wrath.

  4. To my reading, the writer is comparing the “look” of the scene to other horrific events, and not saying that the events are equal in magnitude.

    1. Done and done.  http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/05/19/us-texas-budget-wildfires-idUSTRE74I39V20110519

  5. So, Fred, you’re saying that because there have been climate fluctuations in the past, human’s are off the hook for accelerating a process that is clearly documented to be happening now? Next explain how “we can’t afford to do anything about it” while ignoring the tally of the cost of doing nothing.

    Got to love the myopic for their convictions I guess; hard to come up with any other reasons to love them.

    1. The core problem with Democracy and Socialism is the belief that everyone cares about other citizens and the state of the nation. The truth is that way too many are indifferent and lazy. If you claim to be a religious person you cannot be true to it without being your “brother’s keeper.” I am social democrat with too much formal and otherwise education in History to be optimistic anymore and I will never give up despite my pessimism. Another core issue is ethics. Those on the Right want someone to tell them what is good and bad so they don’t have to bother with the responsibility themselves. A socialist has to examine everything to see if it is life affirming for all people and, for many, animals.  

    1. Actually, I was thinking the same thing: “60 fires started on Sunday night, this fire was 16 miles long on that night, half the Bastrop National park gone, and we’re being told FEMA will be on the scene by *Tuesday*? Why on earth does it take the people who are meant to react instantly to disasters DAYS to send people to a disaster zone? Haven’t they heard of airplanes?

      1. I think FEMA has been up to its behind with the floods up North. I expect that they had to dicker with the State Government first. Many people died waiting after Katrina when the state government dithered to prove it was in charge. They held off ships from foreign nations who went post haste to LA and then had to wait while people died. 

        1. I am aware of what fracking is and does to the water, I was simply using oil as an example of complex, widespread, global production of a product that is shipped and transported around the US.

          Like you just said, “FEMA has been up to its behind with the floods up North.”  Looks like to me Texas could use some of that water.

    1. I have sympathy for those who have lost homes and property. But I am also cognizant of the fact that Texans elected Texas politicians.

      1. Christ, what an asshole.

        Or am I misreading the implication that people of a certain political slant deserve any tragedy that befalls them?

        1. Yes, you are misreading that implication. My comment was in regards to the statement “Texans and Texas politicians are two different groups”, as if the latter were simply the product of spontaneous generation rather than a result of the former. If you choose to completely ignore the first half of my comment that stated I do feel a great sympathy for these people and their loss, because it lets you throw out a trendy sentence, that’s certainly your right.

          1. I just saw this or I would have replied sooner. I withdraw my snark. I read it as you had sympathy, but they were sleeping in the bed the made (I’m sorry – but…). Thanks for the clarification.

      2. “Texans elected Texas politicians.” – not around Austin, we didn’t.
        So don’t take that “they brought it on themselves” line. Perry might be playing this for soundbites (calling the fires “mean looking”), but Perry is not representative of the people here.

        My wife spent 14 hours last night helping the red cross with evacuees from another fire. THAT is far more representative.

    2. Let me see, No. No sympathy.

      They voted for the conservative, fundamentalist time and again, they voted against their own best interests, they voted to SCREW THEMSELVES, long hard and mean.

      “As ye sow, so shall ye reap.”

      Looks like Texas is getting the reaping they deserve. 

      1. Moderator’s note:  Saying that the people of Texas deserve these fires because of who they voted into office counts as blaming the victim, which is against our comment policy.  That would be the case even if every single one of them voted the way some of you seem to think they all did.

      2. I wasn’t 100% sure about agthorn’s post – but you, sir, are not a man to mince words! Christ, you’re as bad as Falwell blaming 9/11 on the gays or some such nonsense.

        Stay classy!

      3. You really think that natural disasters have anything to do with the politicians in place?  Really? And that by voting for the progressive, liberal, Democrat you have chosen, things would be okay?  This is NOT about politics, you smug nitwit.

        By the way, the areas that have been heavily affected happen to be populated by some of the most forward-thinking, liberal Democrats in the southern U.S. We are talking about the Austin area.  do your research before you choose to blame a politician for the woes of the world.  I’m not a Perry supporter, but that is not what this is about.

        1. What politicians have to do with it is that they are the ones who decide to implement or not the things needed in order to stop such events or survive them when they do come. Anyone who pays attention has known for decades what was and is happening. What ever do you think Recycling is about? People and politicians who have called the majority of scientists liars or dim are the ones who have promoted and sustained the refusal to change. I suggest you get more of your citizens to vote and for now, help the people who may be as green as peas and those who waste resources. 

      4. I didn’t vote for any of these folks, so please be careful with who you include in your use of “they”.

  6. My mother took a spill this weekend falling into a a crack in the soil as wide as her leg.  Hundreds of oak and pecan trees some of which are over 100 years old are dying because of lack of water.  The deer have moved out of the forest and into the open in many areas hunting down where people have city water just so they have something to drink.  I had the thought, “Huh, it’s rather dry to be seeing such thick fog… Oh yeah, the fires.” on the way into work this morning.  Asking generations back, this is far beyond the average drought.  

    And being skirted by Lee to only have the fringe winds with little or no rain spread and fan flames adds insult to injury.  I could do without the hoopla and hyperbole.  I just want to see some rain.

    Trust me it’s hard to discuss environmental issues when you’re looking over your shoulder to make sure your house isn’t on fire.  But after these disasters are cleared, and hopefully the damage is kept down, there will be a few more receptive ears in the state.

  7. Thanks, Bill. I grew up in Texas and watched state politics go down the toilet (with a brief respite from Ann Richards). Perry is the latest turd circle the bowl.

    But it’s a big, beautiful state and assholes only appear to be in the majority because they’re the loudest and can count on a lots more to look to them for answers.

    But screw all that. This is reality, and Texans will get through this (with help from the federal government that the assholes despise).

    Y’all take care.

    (And who better to file a report than someone who’s seen a lot of disaster and is the partner of the man who wrote “Heavy Weather?”

    1. Assholes only appear to be in the majority because they’re the loudest and can count on a lots more to look to them for answers.

      Now there’s an Eternal Verity if ever I saw one.

    1. Partisanship is uncalled for. Calling out stupidity and failures of planning in leadership, generationally, might lead to some conclusions that could be called partisan in an attempt to deflect honest political responsibility.

      But those arguments would neuter reality in favor of political correctness, and we all know how well that sort of thing flies in Texas.

  8. Not all of us voted for Perry, sir.  The fires don’t ask to see your voter registration card before they burn your pets and homes.  So I’d thank you to find a dictionary and look up the word “compassion” before your vast, greater-than-Southern-folks’ wisdom crushes you under its weight.

  9. Well fire is hot, and wildfires are natural, so…  No anthropocentric climate change?  Is that what Texas is shooting for here?

  10. http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/ybd01
     Droughts have been recorded as a problem in Texas since Spaniards explored the area. Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca
    found a population of soil tillers near the site of present-day
    Presidio, where it had not rained for two years. Regarding the white man
    as a god, they begged him to tell the sky to rain. In 1720 a summer dry
    spell in Coahuila killed 3,500 of the 4,000 horses that the Marqués de Aguayo,
    governor of Texas, was prepared to bring to Texas. A drought in Central
    Texas dried up the San Gabriel River in 1756, forcing the abandonment
    of a settlement of missionaries and Indians. Stephen F. Austin’s
    first colonists also were hurt by drought. In 1822 their initial food
    crop of corn died from lack of moisture. Each decade since then has been
    marked by at least one period of severe drought.

    1. Since the 1940s the land outside of houston has subsided 10 feet as the aquifer has been pumped out and depleted.

      It will take hundreds of years to recharge even if Houston stops drinking water entirely, today.

      Nice lawns, houston.

  11. Ugh.  Perry and his ilk don’t hate big government!  Those are just words that they use to woo people.  These politicians and voters love the armed forces, the Department of Homeland Security, armed border patrol, and they are gonna love themselves a Texas-sized disaster relief check.  Perry is no different than the rest of the lying a-holes.  The kind of big government that they DO hate is the kind that redistributes wealth to people who need it in the form of welfare, progressive tax structure,  government run health insurance, social security, etc.  That kind of big government they will not abide.  They can’t say, “I hate poor people,” so they say, “I hate big government.”  Why do I even know this?  I’m just a stupid Moc who can’t even spell his own name.

    As for what’s happening in Texas, it sucks.  I am sorry that so many Texans are suffering.  I don’t care who your governor is.

  12. I heard Rick Perry started these fires. In fact, I heard he was so evil that he actually laughed at the victims as their houses burned. Then he kicked a puppy.

  13. i’m live in austin. i grew up in a small town outside of austin. it’s easy to take your ipad and put on your boots (how Texan!) and deal with the “fear and anxiety” that those less fortunate are actually having to go through, especially when you’re coming from a town that will never be affected by the fires. it’s great that you had the guts to cross a fence to take a picture but how about strapping on those boots and actually HELPING. there are calls across the state for firemen, or just help in general. i guarantee the “black settler” would rather you do that than snapping photos and treating their tragedy like a goddamned petting zoo. people are losing everything, but thank god (or Jobs) that you have you ipad, iphone, etc to document it, post it and get back home in time to catch 7 o’clock screening of The Help. 

    also, this isn’t about global warming. jesus. this is about people.

    1. During big forest fires in Western Canada, locals are expected to help. People in BC know they can be pulled in off the street if they are able bodied men with no job. I suspect it is the same in northern Alberta where there are a lot of bush and prairie fires. People volunteer from all over Canada for these monster fires. Fire fighters from the US come to Canada and Canadian fire fighters come into the US. It does not matter if this is a result of Global Climate change or what I believe about it. 

      It matters that people are being hurt and that idiots have been suckered in to buying and carrying around 3 Apple products that duplicate each other’s function. Who even needs to know about these over priced toys? It has to be an ego thing on the part of the writer. Oh, look at me, I am an Apple man. I am wasting energy in buying unnecessary digital toys: the energy to get the chemicals and plastics (made out of oil), the energy to turn the raw material into a product, the energy to transport it from across the world, the energy to house in it a warehouse and then deliver it and finally, electricity to power the battery. Hypocrite. 

  14. Getting in a car and heading towards the area of a disaster isn’t exactly the best idea. The people doing that on the west side of Austin were causing massive problems in the firefighting and relief efforts. Please attempt to be a part of the solution and not the problem. How about taking, or urging people to take water, food, and toiletries to the relief stations instead??! Don’t just be a gawker. geez.

  15. I read very little constructive conversation here, mostly due to the deafening sound of axes being ground.  This isn’t about politics or AGW denialism, it’s about people in danger of losing their homes and lives.

    Hats off to those of you who did make constructive and helpful suggestions.  To the rest of you; lets keep on track here.

    Hope everything improves for you Texans, regardless of how you voted or what your opinion of AGW is.

  16. Heading to Bastrop again…
    Bear in mindI am a Balkan activist and a war survivor, who lived among other dire straits situations three months under NATO bombs writing and taking pics with Toshiba  laptop, thank you Toshiba Tesanovic as I called him!I am a foreigner and a journalist and there is a lot of press out there, american press, you can always follow them if you don’t like my way of doing it!

  17. “OK, please tell me. Wake up and do what?”

    1. STOP PAVING. Do everything to make sure every rain drop that falls on Texas does some good in Texas instead of washing straight off the pavement to the river and returning to the Gulf. 

    2. STOP LIVING LIKE YANKEES. If you want to live the Northern suburban idyll, move to a Northern suburb. If you want to live in a scrub land, accept what that means. 

    3. STOP LIVING LIKE COWBOYS. If you really are a self reliant rugged individualist, I tip my hat to you. But if not, and you depend on our modern infrastructure, then move to somewhere where helping you in a disaster is not a big logistical nightmare, that is to say, a city. 

    4. TAKE RESPONSIBILITY FOR YOUR WELL BEING. Perry’s disgusting prayer rally was nothing more than washing his hands free of the responsibility to take tangible steps in response to the drought. Yes, it deserves to be roundly mocked. 

    1. 1) Honestly, they haven’t paved Texas. It’s not really possible to pave any relevant amount of the place. Texas is kinda BIG. I think you don’t quite get how big it is, and how little of it is paved, so I’d suggest going to Google maps and taking a peek at their satellite view. See all that green? OK, it’s yellow, this year. But it’s not blacktop.

      This is not a drought caused by a few parking lots causing the water to run off. This is a drought caused by an absence of rain. No rain fell, on blacktop or on earth. Not one drop has hit my workplace for about six months now.

      I’m not saying that sucking the state’s lifeblood out of the water table and the rivers hasn’t been going on: and we fight that wherever we can. For example, the White Stallion coal plant was requesting a 40-year contract with the Lower Colorado River Authority to guarantee 22 million gallons of water per day: due to our overwhelming public opposition, the LCRA put its foot down in a rare show of force, and said “we’ll think about that a while”. Yeah, nobody ever says “no” to big business nowadays, sadly: but the LCRA shows no signs of stopping thinking any time soon :D

      People have had to sell their cattle, because there’s no grass for them to eat, no water for them or the grass, and (for good reason) they are not permitted to use city water for either purpose. So, they have no livelihood, no income.

      The fires this wildfire season have burned an area the size of Connecticut. That’s a significant proportion of the state – about 2%.

      2) I have no idea what you’re talking about here. Other than that people here have lawns, and I feel they should not, or at least should not be required to: it’s a waste of water. Sure, there’s a “water only on two days of the week” law in place, but damnitt, why should people be allowed to turn their sprinklers on at all?

      3) Er, these fires are happening around Austin. You might have heard of it, it’s the capital of Texas. The Bastrop fire’s about 25 miles SW of the town centre. I don’t know what century you think this is, but nowadays, yes, people do live in towns, not shacks. Where you see a place name that has “Ranch” in, it doesn’t mean they’re outside shootin’ distance of their nearest neighbor: it usually means they’re in a housing development. The fire at Steiner Ranch (where Perry went for his photo op then scurried away like a weasel – but also where my wife was with the red cross all night, caring for the evacuees) was a good example: the buildings going up in flames in the development there were worth $500k and upwards.

      There’s a ten lane highway outside the ranch I live in. People really are very accessible here. They don’t tend to live up horse trails.

      Also, Texas is not all prairie. Austin is at the junction between five different biomes, which makes for a really lovely mix. Of course, this year they’ve all been devastated by the drought.

      4) We take responsibility. We campaign endlessly for common sense. This area is not the area of Texas that voted Perry in, and while we do like to roundly mock him ourselves, we do not appreciate attempts to tar us with the same brush. Tar and feather us, by all means: but don’t let that dirty bastard have the brush first.

      Overall: your advice is welcome and refreshing, compared to some of the “blame the victim” stuff, but you might want to leaven it with a little research into the actual problems, or at least a little common sense.

      The real problems here are:
      1) There’s been no rain.
      2) It’s really hot. We’ve had 80 days of temperatures over 100. The previous record was, I think, 43.
      3) Tropical storm Lee meant for fast winds: red flag warnings for central Texas all weekend.

      And some human centred ones:
      1) People use too much water. Especially businesses, but also residential lawns.

      2) People are really dumb with fire. There are $1000 fines and more for discarding cigarette butts, there are “don’t mess with Texas” campaigns to prevent that and glass bottles and other littering, but they still do it.
      3) It was Labour day weekend. That means… grilled meat! Although there was a ban on any kind of fire, a lot of people violated that ban to fire up their grills. And cracked open some cold ones. And forgot that it takes just one spark to start a fire.
      4) Houses here are built of tinderwood for some reason. I’m surprised they don’t paint them with pitch. Maybe they do.

      1. “Honestly, they haven’t paved Texas. It’s not really possible to pave any relevant amount of the place. Texas is kinda BIG. I think you don’t quite get how big it is, and how little of it is paved, so I’d suggest going to Google maps and taking a peek at their satellite view. See all that green? OK, it’s yellow, this year. But it’s not blacktop.”

        But where people are actually living, there’s blacktop. A lot of it. Which means the aquifers in those areas don’t get recharged from the rain, and so when the fires come, you’re up the creek. It’s nice that 500 miles away the ranchers do have some water in their wells, but those threatened suburbs cut off their own lifelines with too much paving, and then invested too much wealth right in the line of fire. 

      2. Okay, one last reply to you, DewiMorgan, before Antinous brings out the rod of loving kindness, about this: “And some human centred ones 

        1) People use too much water. Especially businesses, but also residential lawns.

        2) People are really dumb with fire. There are $1000 fines and more for discarding cigarette butts, there are “don’t mess with Texas” campaigns to prevent that and glass bottles and other littering, but they still do it.
        3) It was Labour day weekend. That means… grilled meat! Although there was a ban on any kind of fire, a lot of people violated that ban to fire up their grills. And cracked open some cold ones. And forgot that it takes just one spark to start a fire.4) Houses here are built of tinderwood for some reason. I’m surprised they don’t paint them with pitch. Maybe they do.”All these things are true for where I live too, in Massachusetts. But here in Massachusetts, you can water the lawn and not worry that the water you used will be needed for firefighting tomorrow. And you can throw a cigarette butt into the grass and only be a garden variety jerk, not the jerk who just destroyed a whole county. And you can grill. And live in a wooden house. All these things are reasonably safe in Yankeeland. And not at all safe in Texas. People who want to live in Texas should be willing to live in harmony with conditions in Texas. Everyone else needs simply to leave. That’s what I meant by “stop living like Yankees.”

      3. because depleting the aquifer through poor planning has nothing to do with this. Amirite?

        In a desert, water is more valuable than gold.

  18. I hate to see my home state run down like it is in this thread.  These are human beings, and lots of them are in trouble.  600 homes lost now and 30,000 acres burned.

    The Elgin Courier is doing a really nice job covering the fires.  http://www.elgincourier.com/

    Politics:  Seems like both ends of the political spectrum are shot through with hateful and shameless intolerance.  It will be up to us in the middle to forge some new political parties that are willing to do some work and fix this country.

  19. Interactive map of the fires, straight from the Forestry Service:


    The Bastrop fire is the largest of hundreds of fires across Central and Northeast Texas.  Tropical Storm Lee didn’t do us any favors this weekend, bringing in the associated 40-50mph winds without the rain (in East Texas at least), sparking fires all over. 

    Stay classy boingboing.

  20. Something I find more odd:

    -We will drill a hole miles deep in the ground just to pump out oil.
    -Then we will fill up a tanker and sail it half way around the world.
    -Then process that oil into various fuels, and then pump that all around the US.

    Yet we don’t seem capable of doing the same with clean drinking water…

    Oh my bad I forgot that oil is a trillion dollar business.., where we only need water to live.

    1. What are you talking about? o_0Water is extremely plentiful (for the most part). We pay literally pennies a gallon. There is no way in hell they are going to import water like we import oil. The cost is simply too great. In other desert areas they pay to divert water from elsewhere. Building desalinization plants would be another option. But come on… no one is going to pay $100 a barrel for water at this point.

      Droughts have ended whole civilizations. Just because we have iPods doesn’t suddenly make us immune to their effects.

      1. I believe you are missing my point.  Yes water is fairly plentiful, at least if you live somewhere that has it.  Right now a large portion of the eastern seaboard is getting more rain then we need and in some places can handle.  Couple that with the hurricane that just came through a couple weeks before that and there is water, water everywhere.  The point I was trying to make is we have the technology and drive to move oil all around the planet, yet we don’t place that same value on water.  Now I’m not saying we need to be exporting water to the Middle East or China or anything, but there are plenty of places in the US that get excess rainfall and plenty that don’t have enough.

        I just find it odd how we only prioritize things when there is a profit to be made, not when there can be actual benefit to everyone.

        1. re: “yet we don’t place that same value on water… but there are plenty of places in the US that get excess rainfall and plenty that don’t have enough. ”

          Sure we do. Nature does most of it for us with river and water under ground. But for man-made water distribution, look at the West. I can think of the California Aqueduct and diverting water in Nevada, Arizona and the like, especially the Colorado River. I am sure there are several more similar projects.

          The problem is West Texas has enough water most of the time, so a big project like above isn’t really needed or cost effective.

          You also have the issue where people don’t want to give up their water – for the same reasons others might need it. Water rights is a huge issue west of the Rockies. So building a pipe line from say North Kansas to West Texas might be fine when everything is going well, but if Kansas farmers need more water for their crops, they aren’t going to be so free with their limited resource.

          Don’t worry – we are going to have a sort of ‘water crisis’ at some point. We are consuming our underwater reserves faster than nature and replace them. Eventually super efficient water usage will be the norm, water will cost more, and new technologies such as economical desalinization will emerge. So maybe then a pipe like from Lake Superior or some where will be more feasible.

    2. They do drill for water and then they use it to frack. That water is gone and if it does come back it is toxic. 

  21. You people are silly. This fire is in Austin, an oasis of liberalism. God isn’t striking down Austin because of conservative values. Clearly God hates the Texas Longhorns.

  22. Good luck Texas…sometimes I’ll admit I have made fun of your big hat no cattle politicians, and the ‘Dont Mess With etc’ attitude.

    But I do feel sympathy for your troubles now.  You see: I live in Godless West Coast San Francisco, and we get earthquakes (and fires).  In the last 3 years or so every big quake has happened around us. There will come a day when we will fall and burn.  And when the fires go out and the wounded are healed; I will check my Internet and see messages like ‘Hippy Queers that’s what you GET!’

    And I’ll be sad.  But undaunted by inevitable stupidity.  Like the stupidity of blaming the victims here.

    ‘OOOH you built your house out of Twigs and YOU built your house out of Straw: HOW STUPID HAHA!’

    But eventually everyones house gets blown down.  Dont be so smug that yours still stands.

    Be safe out there.

    1. Thank you, gwailo_joe, for saying what I was thinking while reading the comments. When Katrina hit, I watched with horror the response of FEMA, and realized with some foreboding what their response to our own inevitable disaster might be if it happened at that time. When we were on fire in Southern California last year, after a long drought, the overall response seemed to be all right. In fact, the state government and support from NGO’s seemed to be quite a bit better than we had seen in the past, very energetic, and I allowed myself some hope that things had improved under the new administration. Governor Goodhair is now complaining about the response to the Texas fires, but he’s attempting to follow Dubya’s career path, and after his prayer rally/election stunt, I have to take what he says at a steep discount. That’s why I would appreciate hearing tales of disaster management from those who are there.

      But I know that California is looked upon with massive scorn & derision by the Red State set, so I expect when we climb from the rubble of that future day and log back in, we may see some of the same Schadenfreude from those folks as we see directed toward Texas today. I don’t care, as long as they send more help than crates of Gideons & prayers from fundamentalist preachers. I am sending a donation to the Red Cross tomorrow. I would love to hear any suggestions of other effective ways to help from those that are affected, as well. I do have one question for the Texas readers. My family came from Texas. When I visited there as a kid, they told stories of Dust Bowl Days and droughts of the past. They also pointed out all the projects that had been built since, to make sure that never happened again. I remember many lakes around Dallas, and the Guadalupe River by New Braunfels. And I see there is a lake outside Austin. Has all that water infrastructure proven to be inadequate? Has it been overwhelmed by population growth in combination with the weather? Were projects to upgrade it prey to “delayed maintenance” which I’ve seen too much of in the past few years? I’m curious if lessons are being learned, and by whom, and if there will be an effort toward prevention or adaptation. Personal AGW note: I asked my son-in-law, who lives in Oklahoma and gets his information from AM radio, if he, in light of the fires raging south of him & King Hell Drought & temps over 100 F every day for *months* was maybe enough for him to rethink the idea of AGW. Lots of silence at the other end of the phone, then “Well, it isn’t proven…”I really thought drying up and bursting into flame would be more persuasive. Quite frustrating. But I still hope it rains soon for them.

  23. 2) I have no idea what you’re talking about here. Other than that people here have lawns, and I feel they should not, or at least should not be required to: it’s a waste of water. Sure, there’s a “water only on two days of the week” law in place, but damnitt, why should people be allowed to turn their sprinklers on at all?”

    It’s not just the lawns. Suburban sprawl is terrible for other reasons too. It’s easy to help a disaster-struck city. They’re concentrated together, so less ground to cover when you send the food in. In rural areas, people are used to fending for themselves for a few days. But the suburbs are where you find people who will need help immediately, and yet are spread out so help is difficult to deliver. That way of life simply does not belong in Texas. 

  24. “There’s a ten lane highway outside the ranch I live in. People really are very accessible here. They don’t tend to live up horse trails.”

    Doesn’t matter. With the gear the army has, a horse trail is just as good. The problem is that the people are too spread out. It’s how long the road is that’s the problem, not how wide or how narrow. 

  25. Ring around the rosy,
    A pocketful of trolls.

    Let’s try this again, only without the partisan political bullshit. Some comments have been orphaned.

  26. Hey!

    1) Anthropogenic Climate Change is a real thing, whether it’s exacerbating droughts in a particular area or not. Read science. Use common sense, look at the precautionary principle, whatever.

    2) Saying something looks like a war zone is a manner of speaking, not an indication of some silly American lack of perspective. In this case, it actually does look like one.

    3) Not everyone in Texas votes for corporatist asses. Voting for one does not mean you deserve to have your house burned down. That’s an incredibly inhuman thing to say, even if you are internet tough dudes and ladies.

    4) Stop being jerkoffs. People are losing their houses, pets, jobs, and are now refugees, temporarily (one hopes temporarily). This is not a circus or a fundraiser.

  27. Drove east on highway 79 yesterday evening. NPR had jumped on the story about the fires west of Austin in Circle C and Steiner Ranch; the BBC had a reporter in Austin doing a report on it, and I’d checked back in on the story every few minutes while I flipped channels. 

    At one point as I was heading east I realized, “holy shit, those aren’t clouds”. Even about 50 miles north of Bastrop county, I could see it coming up from the ground. 
    What it’s hard to explain on the internet is the sheer scale of the damned thing. as far north as I was, pretty much the whole horizon outside of the passenger’s side window was low, rolling dark clouds.

  28. “I don’t believe in doves or covenants. You’ll know you’ve displeased me when the sky turns black.”

  29. Perhaps a stupid question, but re: mentions of people losing their pets, why don’t the people bring the pets with them when they evacuate? If the nearest shelter doesn’t allow them, drive further. Around here (SoCal) vets will board your pets for free if you’re evacuating from a wildfire.

    1. I imagine in a lot of those cases the area was endangered and then evacuated while people were at work, or otherwise out.

  30. okay can people just stop hating on Texas and realize that dispute your preconceived notions consisting of information from a single politician and outdated stereotypes that Texas is a diverse and complicated area filled with many different types of people. It is not just a state full of gun toting bible pusher rednecks, lots of good honest decent people live here. This is a disaster where lots and lots (700 homes taken in one fire not counting the dozens of others in the area) of people will lose everything they have. It is no different than a hurricane, tornado or earthquake. Please show some respect for the people just like you would for any other natural disaster. If you woke up and saw this out your window:
    and are not immediately filled with compassion for the people effected by it because of some political bias or because you stereotype the people that live there then you need to re-evaluate yourself as a human being!

  31. Given the level of opposition in Texas to taxes, deficits and social “Ponzi schemes,” I’m sure no one will be asking for federal disaster assistance.

      1. Unless your tax bill is in the billions, you don’t pay that much, so you’ll be calling on my dollars to support your lifestyle in an area prone to fires. This is exactly analogous to the Koch brothers refusing to accept the idea that they should pay taxes to support health care for others.

        The point, of course, is that taxes are the price we pay for living in a civil society rather than as a collection of armed and suspicious individuals, and that the prevalent anti-tax attitudes in places like Texas are in fact hypocritical. When push comes to shove, anti-tax zealots always want for themselves the assistance they deny to others.

        1. So your tax bill is in the billions? After all, you said Texas is calling on your dollars…and I don’t pay that much according to you.

          You’ve painted a pretty broad brush over a state with 25 million people. Why don’t you just tell me that everyone in California is a liberal hippie… everyone in New York is a crooked Wall Street banker… and everyone in Alabama is racist?

          I’m going to guess you’ve been to Texas (simply because millions have), but you really sound like someone who could travel a bit more and meet some people outside your circle to realize that others with different ideas than you are not the “enemy.”

  32. Some of these comments are just mean.  Since when do political party, religious beliefs, etc trump human suffering?  People are losing their homes and, in some cases, their lives … and the “clever” and “smart” amongst us think it’s a time to score points.  Happy to suffer for your amusement …

  33. Texas Congressman and GOP Presidential Candidate Ron Paul said the nation would be better off without FEMA.

  34. I live in Northwest Houston, and was on call (but not ultimately not needed) yesterday when friends in my dog rescue group were evacuating 90 animals from their “Second Chance Ranch” (not a shack). 

    Here in Southeast Texas, we are 20 inches behind in rainfall for this year.  The pine trees in Montgomery County where I live are a sickly lime green. When they turn brown, that means the bark beetles have moved in for the kill.  The hardwoods have simply gone toasty.  Our forested areas–which many communities have worked hard to preserve–will be affected for the next five years with severe die-off even if our rains return to normal tomorrow (which isn’t likely). At my house, we’re doing our best to adhere to all water restrictions (we’re ahead on some counts as we’re originally from Southern California, where water restrictions are part of life).  Yeah, we have a lawn (the house came with it) but it’s not the greenest.

    When parched pine and hardwoods catch fire, they blaze up in a mind-boggling “whoosh” of flames.  The fire line moves at a gallop.  People I’ve talked to had literally a few minutes to evacuate due to the vexing shift of the winds from T.S. Lee.  The photos on our local news web site show housing that ranges from mobile homes to spanking new McMansion “horse properties”.  But no matter what, these properties house people, pets and livestock–living creatures.  We’re thankful that few lives (so far) have been lost. 
    However, the property losses will have repercussions within individual
    families for decades.

    I’ve been through earthquakes (Northridge 1994), hurricanes (Ivan, Katrina, Rita, Ike) and have learned the hard way to count my blessings and lend a hand whenever I can.  Currently, the air is bitter with smoke.

    Disasters are always easy to parse when they aren’t happening to you.

  35. “As 9/11 approaches its 10th anniversary I think how much the world
    has changed. Disaster scenes are the new normality: with blurry but
    efficient technologies that witness the death of progress, the denial
    of science.”

    As a native Austinite who hopes to still have a home by the end of the week, I’m glad our troubles were able to give a foreign writer a chance to hamfist a few vague political messages while others crack jokes on the internet. I’ll assume that’s as close a northerner comes to saying, “our prayers are with you.”

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