*The following transcription may contain spelling errors.
Diane Tripp: Okay, my name is Diane Tripp. I’ve been a resident of Bastrop County for 15 years, going on 16 years. I lived in Austin before that. I – my previous address before the fire was 428 Cottletown Road and that’s technically Smithville, but I was lucky enough to live between Bastrop and Buescher State Parks, which is a really beautiful area – was a really beautiful area. It will be someday soon and I work for the Work Force Center in Bastrop and I’m the employer liaison out here dealing with employers and helping them as far as staffing and any type of tax information they need and et cetera, anything that we can help them with that has to do with helping the people in Bastrop County be employed and the employers being happy, et cetera.
KUT News: And do you remember the first time we met, you and I?
Tripp: Yes, I do. We were over at the Civic Center, the brand new Civic Center in Bastrop.
KUT News: Okay if you – if you wouldn’t mind kind of just thinking back to that time and – and what that was like.
Tripp: Ooh, it was chaotic. It was – there were a lot of people. Everyone was trying to find information about where to go to get help or what type of resources were set up and there really wasn’t any communication. Communication was just hectic. It was so – people talking to each other trying to find out what was going on, waiting on – a number of people were waiting on FEMA. There were – American Red Cross was there and they were trying to help people, but there was a lot of chaos because there weren’t places to live, nobody knew where their family members were, it was just – traffic was nuts. So, that was pretty much – that’s how I remember and then you walked up to me and said, “Hey, can I talk to you?”
KUT News: At that point, I think that you – you had – you suspected the worst, although I think maybe you’d only heard second hand.
Tripp: Yes, a neighbor of mine had – had called me and told me that she thought my place had burned and she was going to send me a picture. She was going to go out there and take a picture with her phone and send it to me and at the time all the communication was down except for some cell phones. The internet was down where I was. I was at the Smithville Recreation Center staying there and it was very sporadic and information was sporadic getting there. There was limited contact, but anyhow, she eventually got the picture to me and yes it was my place and so – so that’ show I found out.
KUT News: What – what happened next?
Tripp: Okay, well, I ended up at the Smithville Recreation Center at about 1:40 Monday morning, which was Labor Day morning because I didn’t know what was going on. There wasn’t any communication, there was fire all around. It wasn’t at my place, but I could see it on the horizon and I really didn’t know what was going on. So, I left to go take a look and – and when I was driving down 71 toward Bastrop, the whole horizon was red, so I assumed all of downtown Bastrop was on fire. So, I turned around and came back. I had my animals with me and then there was a State Trooper blocking my road so I couldn’t get back in. So, I went ahead and drove to Smithville and went to the Smithville Recreation Center and they had a Red Cross station set up there with numerous people coming in and out and finding places to stay and I ended up staying there for seven days, sleeping in the parking lot.
KUT News: In your car?
Tripp: Yes, it started in my car and eventually I got a cot and put it out there. Yeah, it was – it was an experience. It was an experience.
KUT News: Were there other people there that you knew?
Tripp: Yes, there were – well, I know a number of people in Smithville because I work this area, but as far as people that had left their homes, my neighbor, Laura Kelly. I called her and found out she was at the Overlook on Park Road 1-C by Buescher State Park and she told her where I was and so she came and she joined me later on. So, she was there and then another friend of mine, a previous neighbor, Martha Gonzalez, managed to make it there a couple of days later to come up and visit with me and check and see how everything was and so we had – there were – more people than I can name were coming in and out of there once – once – once the road opened up, the back roads opened up to get through.
KUT News: I can’t imagine what that would be like to kind of leave your house thinking, “I need to go check this out,” and then suddenly you find yourself a week in this kind of makeshift situation.
Tripp: Well, yes, but, you know, it’s kind of – in my experience what I did mine was fight or flight. So, I went to – I was very focused on – and you weren’t thinking about well your house burned down, you’re thinking about, “Okay what am I going to do next? Where is everybody else? Where are the people I work with. When can I get back to my office? When can I see my property?” But my – you know, I got my animals out of there and I got myself out of there, so that’s the most important thing.
KUT News: So you thought – you assumed that it was serious enough that you got – that you took care of the animals before you even left the first time.
Tripp: Yes, well I just didn’t want to be in a position because we’d had a fire there in 2009 on the front part of Cottletown Road, the Wilderness Ridge fire, and so I wanted to make sure if I left then they needed to with me in case I couldn’t get back in because I had no idea of what was going on or where the fire was or – but the wind was changing direction and moving very fast and blowing very hard, so I wasn’t – I wanted to make sure they were with me so I didn’t have to try to get back through the woods on foot and get them out.
KUT News: Some people did. I remember we talked about that. Some folks were kind of using back trails and whatnot.
Tripp: Yes, a number of people went back – back through. There’s a lot of roads, you know, in these rural areas that are back roads and trails, et cetera, that folks that live out here are aware of and they would take those back even though they’re not supposed to. Obviously, they thought that they could get in and get out and as far as I know everybody did except for one person who lived in back of me or close to me that I didn’t know, but he didn’t make it out. But, everybody else made it in and out so I guess they knew what they were doing for the most part.
KUT News: What did you do to pass the time during that week?
Tripp: I spent a lot of time on my cell phone, off an on my cell phone, when I had service because everybody that I knew called me, everybody, people in other states. My phone didn’t stop ringing. And then also I was trying to coordinate with my office to find out where the staff was, if they were alright, to let them know that I was alright and to kind of figure out what I was going to do. I had to have – once I realized my house had burned, I had to have a place a to go and trying to get – organize that, that was – that was – took a lot of time, a lot of time and a lot of effort.
KUT News: How many folks in this particular office lost their houses?
Tripp: There were four of us, myself, Monie Mae. I’ve got to think it about for a second, Cindy Beckindorf and Loretta Neph and those were the four and then we had a person that was hired here later on, Mike Murphy, who was one of my neighbors. So, those were the four people or those of us or five that – who lost everything. A number of people were evacuated that are here and I really can’t list all of them because I think everybody was evacuated so – but they were evacuated and they might have had, you know, some smoke damage or the fire burned in their yard, but they didn’t lose their homes.
KUT News: What does that do to your kind of like day-to-day environment?
Tripp: Well, the office was closed for – for a while because we couldn’t get here. You know, they had 71 closed down and we really – all we could do was contact each other by cell phone because service was down. I’m sure the internet was down, everything else was down, so when we finally were able to get into the office what happened was they were setting up a – a center, not – you know, like an emergency center where all of the business that have anything to do with – that would help the public, you know, would have services the public would need or perceived to need in one location and that was – that was like the first week of trying to do that because they had to change locations from one school to another area, to the Civic Center where I saw you.
We just ended up trying to find the best place where we could house all of these agencies that could give services to the people and – and one-stop shopping so that everybody would know to go to one place instead of looking all over the place because it was – it was crazy. I mean, I remember I thought – I was told one that where I needed to go as far as – as finding out about services and I went to the location and it was – it was on the television and I went to the location. Well, there wasn’t anybody there, so I went across the street to the police station and the door was locked. I’ve never run into that before. I was like, “The door’s locked to the police station. Wow, they must be – no one here. Everybody’s out in the community.” So, that was – it was – that’s kind of what it was like. So, all of the agencies moved together to try and organize in one place to give everybody services so they could all go through and we could find out exactly what – what the population needed.
KUT News: Further down the line, even, is it hard or was it a challenge because I imagine people are dealing with so much emotional stress and also just so many things that they needed to do to try to get their lives back together, when you have a whole kind of outfit where some many people are dealing with that, it must – you must need to make certain allowances for folks, you know, be understanding, I guess, just of the emotion.
Tripp: Yeah, well we were all pretty much in the same bed together, you know, it was – it was – everybody was going through the same thing, so we all basically had the same needs and everybody kind of understood what was happening to everybody else, but there were things like logistical things that you don’t really think about. I mean, when I left, just in my example, when I left to go to the Rec Center because I had my animals in the car, I couldn’t take anything else. So, I had my work laptop, my animals, I had a couple pairs of shorts, a swimsuit, tennis shoes, flip flops, my purse and that was it. So, I needed clothes, you know, I didn’t have any clothes. I didn’t have anything else. I mean, I had my ID’s – there were a number of people that left that didn’t have ID’s, they didn’t have any way to, you know, to show where they lived or, you know, they were who they were, so it was trying to coordinate all of that because you really don’t – you can conceptualize that unless it happens. It’s not something you think of.
Wow, you know, you’re used to having your ID, you’re used to having your clothes, you’re used to having, you know, going somewhere to go take a shower, somewhere that you’re going to sleep. All that just goes away.
KUT News: So, how did you start the process, then, of rebuilding and how do you make that decision? Was there a question for you whether you were going to stay here or move somewhere else?
Tripp: Well, my job is here, so it was – I lived in Austin for years and I really like Austin, but it – my job’s here and I really didn’t want to commute, so I was planning on staying in this area. First, I had to see how much damage was done. Now, there was never a question about me rebuilding on my place. My place was totally burned. There wasn’t anything green out there. So, the reason why, for me, the reason why I live in the woods is for woods and so there’s no reason to rebuild for me without any woods. So, it was never a question. I wasn’t going to go back there. I still – I’m going to keep the land. I have a Houston Toad exemption on there so I’m going to keep the land and try to keep it, you know, bring it back, but I’m not going to live out there because it will take years for those woods to come back. So, I – I ended up moving into downtown Bastrop.
I lived with – friends of mine were nice enough to offer me their place out in Dale. They had an extra little farm house, old farm house out there and I stayed out there until I could get a house and then the house needed to be renovated and so that’s – was the process I was going through afterwards. That was my decision to make and it wasn’t really a hard one. It was – because I had to have a place to live and I had to – and I knew I wanted to stay here and be supportive of the community besides also, you know, be here to help put things back together, so to speak, in what little way I could.
KUT News: When did you end up getting back to your property?
Tripp: Let me see. The – we couldn’t get back. This was on Monday, Tuesday – Wednesday. I was able to get to my office on Wednesday after Monday Labor Day and I came the back way, one of the back ways, and was able to get in. Seventy-one was still closed and I – actually that’s not true. That’s wrong. I ended up getting to my office on Wednesday and I had talked to my insurance adjuster who was trying to meet with me and he couldn’t get out here and he was in Smithville when I was in Bastrop and so we were trying to get together, but I got to my property, I’d say probably and I’m going to just guess, I’d say Thursday or Friday. I’m guessing Friday because I know that they wouldn’t let us out there for – for, you know, at least five days, something like that and so the first time I ever saw it was when I met the adjuster out there.
KUT News: What did y’all see?
Tripp: Devastation. I mean, it was – I was just – I’m sorry. It was – it was just – it was awful. I’ll be alright. It was just – it was awful. It was – there was nothing there. There was just a roof on the ground or two roofs on the ground. I had a guest house. I’d built a house for my father out there and it was all gone. It was – and everything around there was gone. Everybody’s house was gone. So, I apologize. You probably get…
KUT News: If you want to take a moment, I can turn it off, too.
Tripp: No, actually, I’m – I’m – I’ll be alright, but one of the – one of the lighter things that happened was I went out there and everything was gone and I was very upset and he was very nice, but I had bought – I had – excuse me – I had gotten this huge Mexican – this huge rooster, metal rooster, from Mexico and it was – it was still there. It was like it was made out of nuclear material or something. It was the only thing left standing and it was still there. So, I was – I thought of all things, the – the rooster from Mexico was the only thing standing on the property.
KUT News: You mentioned that to me. I remember, when we met each other, you mentioned that rooster to me.
Tripp: It was just – that was just incredible. I was just – that was one of the lighter moments because I thought everything’s gone but the rooster and so that’s how a lot of people found my house. I had that out there as kind of a landmark.
KUT News: How do you start over from that? I mean, you mention trying to write a list of the things that, you know, you lost.
Tripp: Well, actually it was – it wasn’t as difficult as it is, I think, now because for a lot of people, I can’t answer for them. For me, it was, “Okay, I have certain things I have to be responsible for. I have to be responsible for my animals. I have to be responsible for myself. I have to be responsible for my job.” So, I have to be focused on what I need to do to be able to function in those areas and I had a lot of help from my friends and from my co-workers as far as, you know, being supportive, but I had a place to stay in Dale and so I commuted in and I was able to keep my animals there and so from there it was just kind of like, “Okay, where do I need to go to get clothes?” and some friends of mine were able to come up with clothes from the – there’s a second time around shop – a couple of shops in Austin and one of my friend’s daughter worked there and so the – the owner had – had donated a lot of clothes for the people out here and so I was able to get clothes to wear to – this is one of them and I was able to get clothes to be able to go back to my job and toiletries.
The Red Cross did a great job. In Smithville, at the Rec Center, there was a woman named Sidney that was coordinating everything and they did a wonderful job up there. So, they were able to get us, you know, get the communication going, able to get us toiletries and food and shampoo and things like that. There were donation places all over Smithville. So, all of the churches, all of the community centers, every – there were places to be able to get everything. So we were well taken care of, at least in my instance, I was well taken care of in that sense. You know, I was able to get dog food, things like that, cat food. So, that was, for me, it – that part of it was fairly easy. The difficult part for me came later on after getting all of these emergency things taken care of and been focused on, when I finally sat back. That’s when it kind of hit me. It was the loss of everything. All of – all of my furniture, all of my artwork…
KUT News: Do you want to take a second?
Tripp: No, I can keep going.
KUT News: Okay.
Tripp: But my parents – I had all my parents, my father who had passed away, I had all of his things that I lost and that’s where it becomes hard. It’s – that’s – and then, you know, I had – the insurance company that I had was – was very good about taking care of immediate loss and making sure I had, you know, money to live on, that I could pay my bills. Probably the hardest thing now for me after this, toward the end of this year, is putting together a personal loss list and for all of the reasons that I just said because you go through everything that you lost. It’s a very, very tedious – a long process that is just – there’s got to be an easier way to do it.
It’s just – it’s just extremely tedious and extremely hard to do and, you know, because you never remember everything. I mean, I’ve been collecting things for 40 years. You don’t – you just don’t remember stuff and then when you do remember it it makes you fell awful. So, you know, it’s just like, “Wow, yeah. That’s gone.” Or you think of something and you say, “Gosh, you know, I remember when I – oh, no I don’t have that anymore,” or “I really want to get – well, no, I don’t have that anymore.” And so that’s kind of where it all fall into place where it gets, you know, hard, you know and then you watch everybody else go through it and so you get very emotional with them too, because I mean, a couple of the people – like one of the women that I worked with, she lost her place. She loved her house. She had a beautiful house and then her animals – a couple of her animals died right after this. You know, it was just awful – not because of the fire, but they’d just gotten sick and it just happened to be bad timing, so it was like that.
KUT News: It’s emotionally draining probably.
Tripp: It is. It’s exhausting. It’s exhausting.
KUT News: How long did it take you to get set up in your new place here?
Tripp: Well, that was a while. It needed to be renovated. I bought a house that was built in 1950 that was rental property and so my first reaction, when I bought it was, “Well, this is nice. They did cosmetic stuff. Now, what do the guts look like?” So, the – there was a whole knocked in the wall and, you know, the electrician, who also lost his place, my electrician and was just, “Oh, look at this. Look at this,” and it was just horrible wiring. You know, it was wiring from the 50’s, the old cloth wiring wired into aluminum wiring from the 60’s and 70’s, you know, and it was just a mess and I was just, “Rip it out. No more fires, rip it out.” So, that had to be done and it needed to be insulated and the roof needed to be fixed. You know, just the stuff for older houses you have to do and so that went on and on and on and it took a long time. You know, and then also, you know, everybody after the – the good side to this is a lot of people in construction business and renovating business were very busy. They had a lot of work.
So, you know, it’s like herding cats. You know, “Come to my house. Come to my house, please, please, now now,” but it didn’t work like that. You know, you had to be patient with it. So, it took a long time. Let me see, I closed in November of 2011 and I think finally got in – in and out renovating stuff. It was finally all the way completed in April or May, I want to say. There was still touch up things to do because, you know, of course then it rains when you have painters and they can’t paint. So, we got some rain then. So, it was, yeah, I’m going to say all the way finished probably April – end of April, middle of May like that.
KUT News: And you were in the place or were you still at your friend’s place during all this?
Tripp: It was – I was all over the place. I was – I was at the ‘Y’ in Austin. I was at my friend’s place in Dale. I was in the house and I was out of the house because, I don’t know, have you ever lived in a construction site?
KUT News: No, not – probably not like that.
Tripp: No, I don’t think you’d want to. It’s not something you really want to do. Be glad. If you had kids or you’re married, it’s not something you want to do. It was hard enough for the animals. So, yeah, at one point there when I first finally got there and they were still working around stuff, I had a dog and three cats and myself in one bedroom and I don’t know, I mean, how familiar you are with cats, but I’ve never had a cat box and that was an experience in itself. Having a cat box in your bedroom is something I never want to do again. It was the first thing that went. Once I got in the house, the cat box was gone. So, yeah, it took a while, but it’s worth it. My house is – is gorgeous. I mean, my contractor did a wonderful job. He did. He really did. He hung in there, so did the electrician who is working on his house now. So, it’s a beautiful house and I’m happy with it and just need to get a lot of furniture.
KUT News: So, you still have some things you need to do to kind of…
Tripp: Oh, yeah. It will take years, yeah. I mean, I lost all my artwork, so I’m starting to add that and it’s a bigger place than what I lived in before, so I’m adding more furniture because I didn’t have any furniture and that’s a slow process and I’m trying to think. Let me see. You know, the little things. I didn’t have any silverware. So, you don’t have any silverware, you don’t have any knives. You don’t have anything to cook with. You don’t have glasses. It’s just bizarre. I mean, it’s just what you’d never expect. You know, it’s kind of like – you can really – I can empathize with the homeless. It would be like that. It would be like – it’s like being homeless.
KUT News: What are some – when you think about the long term impacts of – that these fires had on – on Bastrop and just the general community here, what are some of the things that you think about?
Tripp: Well, at first, I was really worried that everybody was going to leave and businesses were going to leave. I was just, you know, very, very worried about that because that will collapse the community, but that didn’t happen. People stayed and they hung together, a lot of people did, you know, planned on and are rebuilding. Businesses survived and it will be a slow process. One of the largest tax revenue areas for Bastrop is the Bastrop State Park and, of course, that was 95% burned. That was, outside of the fact that I love that park, that was one of the things that I was really worried about, I thought, because that’s revenue – missed revenue for this area, but it seems to be, you know, people came back and they were supportive. People that had visited the park in the past came back. Once they opened it up and I was able to get on Park Road 1-C and get into Bastrop State Park, I was really – it was wonderful.
There were a lot of people that I met in there because I would – I’m there every weekend and so there were a lot of people that came back and said, “You know, we’re here to support the park. We’re coming back, “ and to me it looked just awful. It was just awful, but, you know, they were there and they’d been very supportive and it will come back. It just will take, you know, a long time, but you have to look at it like there’s also a lot of growth that you never saw before in there. You lost your pines and a lot of the oaks, but there’s growth now, a lot of wildflowers, a lot of plants that I had never seen before, you know, because of the covering, you know, the pine – pine covering that didn’t really – they weren’t prolific there. So, that – that’s pretty interesting. That’s pretty interesting and I think also logistically, in my opinion, because of the way everything’s been developed in Austin and west of Austin that this is kind of the natural way for development to come as Austin grows, will be in this area, moving this are. So, that will kind of – and I’m hopeful and I think it will take care of itself.
KUT News: Yeah, certainly <inaudible 26:49> before.
Tripp: Yeah, and it was and we have a lot of new businesses that are coming out here which is good even considering the way the economy is kind of sputtering along, but we have a number of businesses that have moved out here and are considered, you know, that when everything – when that happened, they kind of were at a standstill, but then it came from there, you know, they kept coming from that point on. They didn’t stop and so I’m very hopeful and I think it will be – it’s a thriving community and it will continue to grow.
KUT News: I – I’m running out of questions, but are there things that we have haven’t touched on that you would kind of add for people hearing about this?
Tripp: Well, I want to make sure that the public understands that Bastrop is still – still exists, that it is still a thriving community, that there are a number of things to do out here. We still have a number of recreational areas. The fire did not touch Buescher State Park and so that is still one of the areas if – if you want to enjoy the loblolly Pines, the piney woods, that’s one of the areas to go. There are businesses that are still thriving out here and there’s a number of things to do. I mean, we have the Colorado River run right through us, so there’s canoeing, rafting, we have a new brew pub that’s getting ready to open and there are a number of restaurants and shops. We have historic areas downtown. It’s really – it is a beautiful little community. So, I want to make sure everybody doesn’t think we’re all gone.
KUT News: Absolutely, yeah. I was speaking to another woman who is in the area and she was talking about when there were fires in Colorado recently. I guess, are there residual emotions involved? You know, I mean, when you think and probably pretty clearly there are when you hear about other things. Do you worry about the weather in a different way? Do you – do you have a different relationship with the natural – your surroundings?
Tripp: Well, yes. Yes, definitely yes. The fires in New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado, my god, where else? South Dakota, Wyoming, Utah, everywhere, you know, you understand what those people are going through and you feel terrible about it. You empathize with them. You – you – your heart goes out to them, but the other thing is you also know that – that this is – I mean, I don’t know really what you could do to change. This is just more or less the way nature goes and you have to just stay, keep one foot in front of the other and just keep going forward. I – there was one thing that when you were asking me that that I wanted to let you know about and I just lost that train of thought. I’m sorry.
KUT News: Happens to me all the time.
KUT News: It’s fine.
Tripp: But it was when you hear about things like that – oh, I know what I was going to tell you. One of the things that I didn’t mention before that happens after you’re in some – a situation like that, a disaster like that be it fire or hurricane or flood, whatever it may be, tornados, is you dream about and it’s very strange. It’s very scary. I know whenever I’d hear something, you know, it wasn’t particularly in my new house, it was wherever I happened to be, I’d wake up on the middle of the night and I’d say, you know, because we still had a drought going on and I’d hear something or the wind would pick up and you’d just wake up and you’d go, “Fire,” and you jump up and you’re going – you’re looking around for it, you know. It – that stays with you for quite a while.
For me, in my particular case, it was about four months and then it all kind of – you thought about it again when everything was going on in Colorado and Arizona and New Mexico and you’d wake up and you’d go, “Fire, is that what I’m hearing?” You know, it was really – it’s one of those things that – I – you dream about and I guess you really don’t remember except you wake up and you’re at the wrong end of the bed the next morning, so you know that something was going on and you’re not really sure what, but it was something that triggered that.
KUT News: I can’t think of anything else. Is there anything you’d like to add?
Tripp: No, not that I can think of. I’m grateful that you’re doing this. I think it’s – hopefully it will be beneficial to the public and it will help somebody else. Obviously you can’t – there’s no way that you can convey what it’s like to go through this verbally. I wish there was some way, you know, that you could do that, but you can’t, but to know that you can get through this and that’s about all you can say. It’s – but it’s – there’s no way, unless you’ve gone through it to – to be able to convey that, I think, probably in any language.