Lunch and Learn event highlights 2011 Bastrop wildfires


July 23, 2013 at 2:23 a.m.
Updated July 24, 2013 at 2:24 a.m.

Todd McClanahan

Todd McClanahan   ALLISON MILES for The Victoria Advocate

Todd McClanahan remembers a time the world was on fire.

It was Labor Day weekend 2011 when the first flames were spotted in Bastrop, across from state Highway 21.

What took hold was a wildfire that scorched more than 33,000 acres, burned 1,600 homes and killed two people.

"I get goosebumps every time I look at these photographs, every time I talk about it," he said, eyeing an image of towering smoke clouds.

McClanahan, Region 3 director with the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department's state parks division, spoke Tuesday at a Victoria County Master Gardener Lunch and Learn event. There, he discussed battling the massive blaze and ongoing recovery efforts.

For the first two to three days, there was no fighting the fire, said the Bastrop resident who graduated high school in Victoria and lives in Bastrop State Park.

"It was so intense; you couldn't see anything. We couldn't do anything," he said. "You really felt helpless."

Crews evacuated 5,000 people, cut off highway traffic and did what they could to protect the state's resources and historic buildings. Still, 96 percent of the park had fire and 34 percent was heavily burned.

But the troubles didn't end there. Between October 2011 and May 2012, the area received 40 inches of rain, bringing rising water, which damaged roads and filled the lake with ash and debris.

"So when this came, I was like, you know, this is a low blow," he said. "I said, 'What's next? Grasshoppers?'"

The events might have dealt a devastating blow, but recovery efforts are well underway.

McClanahan said crews saved any trees they could, and many dead trees became mulch that teams added around breeding ponds to attract insects and the like.

Volunteers and workers have planted trees - they hope to average about 500,000 trees per year for the next four years - and the park was recently appropriated $4.9 million.

The Arbor Day Foundation also formed a partnership, assisting with recovery efforts.

And things are looking up.

In December, the park's pine trees began resprouting.

"Mother Nature's pretty resilient," he said.

Jean Knowles, a member of the Master Gardeners Association, called McClanahan's presentation one of the best the group has seen. His account brought the situation to life.

"We all knew what happened, but it's hard to really understand it all," she said. "He gave us so many details that most of us probably hadn't ever heard."

Marcia Kauffman, another group member, agreed.

She said his story illustrated people's willingness to come together in a desperate situation.

"People took heroic steps, and the volunteers stepped up," she said. "You know recovery is going to take a while, but they're getting there."



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