Year later, residents still recovering from tri-county wildfire

September 5, 2012 8:59:32 PM PDT
It was a year ago Wednesday that a wildfire spread across three counties and destroyed homes, scorched thousands of acres and changed much of the landscape in those counties.

The afternoon of September 5, 2011, the call went out about the tri-county fire.

Fire crews rushed to the scene but the blaze quickly escalated to span over West Montgomery County, East Grimes County and northeast Waller County.

Since then, it's been an uphill battle for communities trying to recover.

Diane Tatum is still waiting for insurance money to repair the melted siding as the wildfire approached her home.

"We just ran in and they helped me put clothes and documents in my car and when finally someone said we've got to go and we walked out, it was just raining fire ash on us," Tatum said. "We just ran from it, that's all we could do."

The fire enveloped her yard and the trees around her property.

"They couldn't put one drop of water in here, they couldn't it was moving so fast. There was nothing they could do," Tatum said.

"It was as bad as you can imagine. It was a total inferno here," Grimes County Sheriff Donald Sowell said.

Sowell will never forget last summer.

"It was so fast moving that people literally had minutes or less than 30 minutes to get out," he said.

Summer flowers and greenery give color to a background of burned-out branches and stumps of still-charred trees.

The sheriff showed us a flag that once marked a doorstep. Down the street a mailbox is the only clue a family once lived here.

"This individual who owns this property here, they had a lot of damage there, they've torn down the structure and started the rebuilding process now," Sowell said.

The fire was very unpredictable; at times it jumped over roadways. There were about 40 homes lost in this area and sometimes it would leave one with just minor damage.

"You always think you know people and you don't know them until you get into a tragic situation," Grimes County Pct. 4 Commissioner Pam Finke said.

Finke says she saw how it brought her community together but it also left them nervous about the possibility of another dry summer.

"This year I know they were holding their breath a lot just like everybody else was," Finke said.

While Tatum still has repairs to make to her home, she knows just down the street, it was so much worse.

"It's so sad. We went from having a beautiful wooded you know, to now they are just clear cutting it," she said.

Sowell says he is thankful they had no loss of life there but neighboring counties were not as fortunate. More than 1,600 homes were destroyed and two people killed in Bastrop County.


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