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Crossroads volunteers return from the Texas wildfires

By By Dianna Wray - DWRAY@VICAD.COM
Sept. 16, 2011 at 4:16 a.m.


HOW TO HELP

To find out how to be a certified volunteer or to donate to the Crossroads Chapter of the American Red Cross, call 361-573-2671.

TO HELP OUT

The Eagles Lodge in Port Lavaca, led by Chaplain Debra Leigh, is collecting bottled water, nonperishable food items, hygienic items, baby formula and diapers and blankets. Drop offs can be made at the lounge at state Highway 35 South at 361-482-7586.

First Baptist Church of Gonzales is currently accepting gift cards to Walmart or H-E-B. Donations can be made at the church, 422 Saint Paul St. For more information, call 830-672-9595.

Project Wildfire, a relief drive for victims of fires in Bastrop,

Waller and Montgomery Counties, is accepting donations of water, nonperishable food items toys and things like that through Sept. 30 at Victoria Kia, 714 E. Rio Grande St, Victoria.

The smell of the smoke still fills their nostrils when they breathe in.

After wildfires that swept across Central Texas over the Labor Day weekend, destroying more than 1,500 homes, Red Cross volunteers Marguerite Griffin and Len Walker stepped up to help out.

"It's just about giving back. We're retired and we have the time so it's the right thing to do," Walker said.

Griffin, 82, and Walker, 72, prepared the emergency response vehicle and left for the shelters erected in Magnolia. Victims from the Bastrop fires were being evacuated to shelters set up in Magnolia.

Griffin and Walker are two of only four nationally certified volunteers at the Crossroads Chapter, qualifying them to work disasters anywhere in the country.

The two arrived in Magnolia on Sept. 8 to assist with feeding the victims and those working on the fire in Bastrop.

They worked with the First Baptist Church for eight days distributing food cooked by the church members.

The volunteers were kept away from the burning homes, but they saw the smoke that blew into Magnolia and saw the despair of those who had lost their homes.

A logging camp was destroyed by fire. The devastation was complete, with everything from the stacks of logs to the logging equipment burned.

Griffin and Walker didn't see a lot of the destruction, because their trucks were restricted to main roads, but they heard stories everywhere they went.

One man told of how his home had burned to the ground, while his neighbors' homes were untouched by the flames.

A woman approached Griffin outside their motel. In tears, she told Griffin that she had lost her home, which was uninsured. Griffin hugged the woman to remind her she wasn't alone.

"Your heart goes out to them because you see they have lost so much," Griffin said, wiping the corners of her eyes.

They even had to evacuate once.

Griffin and Walker got orders to evacuate from their motel. They were told to grab their luggage and leave because the fire was less than a mile away. They checked in after the fire was out and continued working.

The Bastrop fire has burned more than 34,000 acres and is now 80 percent contained, according to the Texas Forest Service.

The shelters in Magnolia have shut down for the time being as the need has lessened. Griffin and Walker arrived back in Victoria Thursday evening.

Now that they are back, what they saw is beginning to sink in, Griffin and Walker agreed.

"It really doesn't hit you until you get back and relax a little, because your head is so full of go-go-go. Now, it's hard to keep back the tears," Walker said.

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