It was the hot dry winds I remember most, the punishing, otherworldly quality to them, as if record heat and drought weren’t hard enough to endure. And then came the smoke, a massive wall of roiling gray and white that covered the land
For those of us living in Bastrop it seemed the world was coming to an end. It didn’t, of course. The fires burned out. The rains returned. The land and its people began to heal.
This week, shades of 2011 have returned. Fields have rapidly deteriorated to brown and dusty. And that hot southerly wind that began on Monday, so bizarre for mid October, shifted and strengthened with a cold front Tuesday. Then suddenly it appeared, like a ghost in mid afternoon, that plume of gray smoke rising higher and higher as I drove to our river farm. For a moment, I was back in 2011, Labor Day weekend, when all hell broke loose.
The Hidden Pine fire, as it is now called, was tiny compared to the epic Bastrop fire. I say “was.” Two days ago it was only 275 acres and 50% contained. By this morning it had grown to more than 4,000 acres with only 15% contained.
This afternoon, smoke has drifted as far as downtown Austin. Friends call or text to ask if the fire is anywhere near us. No, 10 miles away, I assure them; the smell of smoke filling the barn puts me on edge.
The governor is headed out here for a news conference tomorrow to declare a disaster area. Firefighting teams are also arriving from across the state. No one is taking any chances this time. This county could not endure another 2011.
After all that flooding this spring – nearly a year’s worth in a few months – who could have predicted the valve would shut off and virtually no rain would fall out here since June? I can’t remember a year of more extremes. Record rains followed by record heat. Isn’t this the pattern that scientists have predicted with global warming?
More record heat, low humidity and increased winds are forecasted today. The fire chief has assured Bastrop residents that we will win this battle of the blaze. The war metaphor is so predictable, as if nature has attacked us, an enemy to be subdued. How well the farmer understands this attitude; yet he is constantly reminded, through daily humiliations, that this at-war mindset has helped fuel these fires in ways we are only now beginning to appreciate.