Texas: Bastrop Fires

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.


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  1. “George Bush’s war for oil still grinds on as his native soil is parched by global warming.”  Technically, George W Bush’s “native soil” would be in the state of Connecticut.  If you meant his father, George H.W. Bush, he’s from Massachussetts.

  2. They got rid of my virulent and unkind  comment saying what I thought of the author’s “American” friend, but it still stands.
    Oh, and the term is “rubbernecker.” If you are going to gawk at the suffering of others without doing anything to help, at least get the terminology right.

    1. Wow, an article about the stoic resilience and neighborly behavior of Texas and you let one comment pointing out a little irony get you twisted in knots. They are there to document and report (you know, like war and disaster reporters are want to do) so I cannot understand the issue of going there without it being for aid. 

      Being from Central Texas myself, I know the fires are an emotional subject. The author did not say that Texas is getting what it deserves (leave that sort of rhetoric for Bachmann, she loves it) nor did she imply that this was an ‘act of god’ or any other such nonsense. 

      The author did a great job of portraying the way Texans deal with disaster: Aid tents all along the roads, people readily available to help, families offering their own homes and space to those in need. 

      1. The comment is about “harsh eerie justice.”  There is no mention of irony.  The comment doesn’t fit the rest of the article.  For me, it overshadows everything else she wrote.

        Jasmina Tesanovic lives in Texas.  Is she as culpable for Texas’ petroleum profits as the fire’s direct victims?  In Bastrop County, 11.6% of the population lives below the poverty line.  Some of those people surely lost their homes.  Was justice served in those cases?  Wouldn’t “harsh eerie justice” be better served if the wildfires struck Alaska or Norway, where individual citizens profit more directly from the local petroleum industry?

        Tesanovic’s “American Friend” made an irrational comment not worth repeating.  That comment reflects a totally compromised concept of Justice.  I’m surprised that a journalist of Tesanovic’s caliber did repeat it.

  3. “…there is some harsh eerie justice that Texas, the petroleum state, is so stricken by wildfires. ”

    Justice for what, producing the petroleum that allowed you to fly and drive to your destination; that will warm your backside this winter; that produced the energy to cook your breakfast, lunch, and dinner; that produced the plastic that makes up your computer with which you created this entry? If you don’t like petroleum products, why don’t you quit using them, instead of wishing “justice” on Texas. Gimme a break… 

    1. Just looked up some numbers and TX petro-product creation is not as critical to daily U.S. life as you portray. Do you work for/in the industry?

      If only pride could be sold, right?

    2. How about “for producing the lobbyists who told our government to _stop_ investigating ways to power our cars, warm our butts, and cook our food that wouldn’t screw up our climate?” And because I’m in a foul mood, and dealing with several queer friends who have been traumatized by childhoods in Texas, I’d like to add “for producing the petty, intolerant religious fanatics who prevent us from dealing with the same climate change that may have led to these disasters.”

      Does that mean I’m happy that Texans are suffering? Not in the least. All I want is for people from that area to stop acting panicked and crazy, and taking the rest of us with them. I’ve never known panicked, crazy humans to act less so while in danger. I want good things for Texas, in the hopes that if nothing else it might help encourage the Republicans down there to shut the fuck up.

      But is the fate of Texas still a little ironic, all the same? Yeah, I think it really is. And I can see how someone might reasonably see that as a poetic justice. While I can’t judge or blame any individual Texan, Texas-as-a-whole has changed my nation’s fate, and I don’t think it’s been for the better.

      1. what a narrow minded view of an entire state…. austin is a bastion of liberals in texas…  there are many many many many of us texans who are not republican, not oil moguls, not gay haters, not conservative….  yes,  i agree that texas as a whole as changed my nations fate…. and so has california, new york,  iowa.. i could go on for about 47 more, but i wont.  quit being an asshole…   because im in a shitty mood after reading bullshit written by you

        1. what a narrow minded view of an entire state…. austin is a bastion of liberals in texas…  there are many many many many of us texans who are not republican, not oil moguls, not gay haters, not conservative….  yes,  i agree that texas as a whole as changed my nations fate…. and so has california, new york,  iowa.. i could go on for about 47 more, but i wont.  quit being an asshole…

          I don’t think Rezeya was being an asshole by pointing out the irony of Texas being burned to the ground via the effects of climate change.  Maybe you skipped the part where Rezeya mentioned not being happy about the suffering there in the least.

          No one is happy about it.  So let’s stop with the false dichotomy BS in this thread, m’kay?

    3. As for your “quit using petroleum products” argument, why the hell is it my responsibility, first and foremost, who provides power in my society? Am I given a lot of leeway to seek alternatives? Have people encouraged a lot of robust competition here? You might as well be telling a clean air lobbyist  “if you don’t like the oxygen quality, don’t breathe it.” *eyeroll* Nobody was ever saying there was something wrong with petroleum, its byproducts, or the people who learned how to tap and refine it. We object, and quite rightly, to the people who have put themselves in charge of how to dispense that resource. Trust me, if we could pay more for the products of an oil industry that used petroleum responsibily… a lot of us are quite willing to take that hit. That doesn’t make it fair to demand that we live in the paleolithic. 

  4. The “the state gets what it deserves from God” meme is anti-rational.  Was Katrina simply because LA is also a big petroleum producer?  What about Alaska?  Are wildfires “divine” justice…for what exactly?  That state production of oil and natural gas directly results in extremely high qualities of life?  The whole suggestion sounds more like a medieval explanation of nature — Jasmina doesn’t even invoke global warming, which would be more rational, but rather resorts to an unsaid wrath of god explanation.  What was the sin you engaged in for the wars in your home countries that you mention?  Jasmina’s piece may seem like an “arty” or “introspective” piece of journalism, but it’s really a smear job on the many people of Texas who have to deal with the wildfires and the more general rational examination of cause and effect.  PS

  5. Justice for what, producing the petroleum that allowed you to fly and drive to your destination; that will warm your backside this winter; that produced the energy to cook your breakfast, lunch, and dinner; that produced the plastic that makes up your computer with which you created this entry? If you don’t like petroleum products, why don’t you quit using them, instead of wishing “justice” on Texas. Gimme a break…

    Maybe it’s justice for being a large group of apologists for fossil fuels because (let’s face it) it brings the state so much money?

    Maybe the majority of Texans shouldn’t aid and abet climate change deniers by voting them in so often?

    Evidence/Facts/Source:
    http://www.chron.com/news/houston-texas/article/Texas-challenges-EPA-s-global-warming-findings-1585469.php

    When the chickens come home to roost, be sure and blame “dem libruls” who’ve been fighting against the tide of stupidity all this time and have been desperately trying to get ya’ll to wake up and smell the science.

    Oh, that’s right… librulz drive cars, so therefore any effort they’ve made is now invalid.  Is that how it works?  Sigh…

    http://salon.glenrose.net/img/riciperryfire.jpg

    1. Yes, if you drive a car you are a direct beneficiary of the massive gasoline and diesel producing complex in Texas that keeps your car fuel prices at an extraordinarily low level compared to the rest of the world.  It’s not just the production of oil that is important, it’s the ability to refine into useful products.  The only consistent position for your comments would be to eschew all petroleum or petroleum-derived products; otherwise you are a hypocrite, which I’m pretty sure no one would think is a good thing.

  6. The article and comments are  hilarious because people are BAAWWWWING so hard in the comments and the article is a terrible fucking mess.

  7. Thank you for writing this article.  I appreciate an outsider’s point-of-view that is rational and based on observation.  As for rubbernecking-  You may be called a rubbernecker for looking at the suffering of others, but don’t worry…  Anyone who reads your article is doing the same.  It’s a natural human reaction.

    Anyway, this is an issue that deserves attention, and I appreciate what you are doing.

  8. being selfish for a bit… These fires break my heart. Bastrop State Part is why I buy a state park pass each year! I LOVE running this 8 mile loop at the back of the park. I went almost every other weekend from Austin. But that is selfish as people have lost far more. I have a ton of pictures I try to get some up of flicker so they can see how it was! I will be waiting year after year till the park reopens. 

  9. almost 4 years ago i stood in line down at the BWCID water building in tahitian with 200 of my neighbors to caucus for Obama… that’s a huge number of people from MY neighborhood that just lost their homes… so please gtfo with your ‘nary a tear’ bs – i’ve seen a LOT of very very frustrated tired and teary-eyed folks the last week.  My home is 400 feet on the safe side of what was the fireline – and all I’ve got to say is how truly thankful i am to the firefighters who fought so hard to keep my house standing.  A lot of folks who are very opposed to the fact that the texas forest service had it’s budget cut in a record drought year lost everything – you might want to consider that when you’re busy spewing your ‘harsh eerie justice’ garbage.

    Friday I started to hear the am radio nutters with their ‘personal responsibility’ crap – and i was appalled that they’d go to try to score political points when the fire wasnt contained.  Now here you are – doing the same thing in the other direction.  You’re just as bad.  You and the rest of the fire tourists need to stay out of here – go to ACL – have fun – but keep your ill informed opinions on facebook where they belong.

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