Casie and Taylor Hall
On March 26, 2012, Casie and Taylor Hall of Spicewood, Texas spoke with KUT News about their experiences during the Central Texas wildfires.
C. Hall: So, when the wildfires came through, we were actually away from Spicewood. We were visiting Taylor’s family for Labor Day weekend. We had our daughter and our dogs with us fortunately. And that day that we left, the Friday of – I suppose it would have been September second, I had a strange feeling that something was going to happen. I really did have a premonition, only because it had been so dry for so long. The Pedernales River was non-existent, and we had weather reports of the winds being really high. And I just kind of thought to myself: maybe I should grab a couple of things, because I just feel like this is an imminent threat. And low and behold, we’re sitting out on a ranch property that Taylor’s family has, we had been riding around all day covered in ranch dust and didn’t have any of our stuff with us, we were away from the home, from his parents’ home, and one of our neighbors gave us a call, I think on your cell phone, is that right?
T. Hall: Yep.
C. Hall: And you spoke with them.
T. Hall: Yep. It was Jay Curie, and he called and this was about one pm, and he called and said, “I just want to make y’all aware, there have been some wildfires started and they’re seemingly moving out of control about seven miles north of where we live, our neighborhood. And so he said, I’ll just keep you posted; I just want to make you aware of it. And so we then, Casie and I sat and started talking, obviously very nervous. What should we do? We’re about four and a half hours away, in the car, and so we’re in north Texas in Clay County Texas. And so we sat and discussed for a few minutes. And then the neighbor Jay calls back and he says: it’s seemingly imminent toward our neighborhood and our property. It’s seemingly going to burn there. And so they’re evacuating us, everyone’s collecting their, all their valuables and so forth, and so we then made the decision to jump in the car, I didn’t even have a wallet, no change of clothes, we’re dusty from the ranch and –
C. Hall: We left our daughter.
T. Hall: We left our daughter and dogs with my parents and jumped in the car and took off to come to Spicewood to see what we could do. We really knew, or felt that there was not a lot we could do, we were just going to get to see – get here to see the aftermath of our home burned. But we were hopeful.
C. Hall: And our neighbor who had given us the call kind of chuckled when we said we’re on our way, and he just said: there’s really no point, if it hits, there will be nothing left. And he was kind of describing the wall of black smoke as it was coming towards the highway, they were all at another neighbor’s property a little bit later on the hill watching it come, and actually our close friends and neighbors lived directly behind us, we were also in touch with them after. They were actually napping on Sunday afternoon when they got the call to evacuate, and of course woke up shocked and they later, Victor, our neighbor, said that he was one of the last ones to leave and he stood at the front of our neighborhood and watched the fire jump, just blaze across the highway, and it was quite scary for everyone, and they all rallied at Opie’s Barbeque, and we’re trying to check in with neighbors along the way as we’re speeding down Highway 281 to try to catch what we can and we get pulled over. Of course, we knew we would, we were going quite fast down the highway, and we speak with the officer, he was a state trooper right?
T. Hall: Mhm.
C. Hall: Or was he a local, I think he was a state trooper. And he was actually really understanding and we asked if he had any ideas of how we could get more information about what was happening, and he said you know your best bet is to call the National Forestry Service, but we just don’t get that information. So we arrived, I guess, right around sunset, to along Highway 71 which is already blocked off on the what would be the west side of our neighborhood entrance, right by Fall Creek Cemetery. And there were people, just regular through traffic travelers trying to cut through, and if they wanted to get to Austin, or even just across the Pedernales River, they actually as we later did the next day would have to go 60 miles around to just get a three-mile distance, through Johnson city, through Dripping Springs, et cetera.
So there was some frustration, there were people in the same position as us, unable to get to their homes, thinking everything that they had was going to be burned, and we actually remembered seeing a guy in tears, just talking to an officer saying, “Everything I have is behind this blockade. Please let me through.” And we heard some of our neighbors were up on the hill, kind of behind our neighborhood, down Fall Creek Road. So we headed there, and I knew of a private road because I had met some people that lived on that private road, and so we had the decision to try to sneak back there, basically. I having known that these folks I knew off of that private road said they could see our home from the hill behind their house. So a few of our neighbors said, well we can’t go back there, it’s marked private, no trespassing. We went ahead, I think three or four of us, and this is really, it’s starting to get dark, the sun is setting, and you can’t see anything anyway, because as we were talking about, the smoke was just –
T. Hall: From, yeah, this was from a vantage point. Kind of on the south side, and the fires were burning from the north, the winds were really strong out of the north, and that was a big part of how the fire traveled so rapidly. And so we get to this vantage point and our neighborhood was totally engulfed in smoke, like you could really not really see any of the homes, it was kind of getting dark and just kind of out of the wind, some smoke blew and we saw just our – chimney, the stone chimney kind of just for a moment, you kind of thought you saw it, we didn’t know if it was hopeful, a hopeful mirage or what. But we thought we saw our chimney, so we thought, “Ok, maybe we still have a house there.” ‘Cause right when we rolled up to this area, our neighbors said, “We’re pretty sure your house is gone.” So we lived on the north side of the street in our neighborhood, and nobody could see anything there, it was all engulfed in flame and smoke. And so we were preparing ourselves to not have a home. Well, then we had hope when we saw the chimney. So –
C. Hall: But we did see, behind the house we have a smallish hill, and we could see the flames blazing, the cedar trees, I mean we couldn’t exactly tell it was cedars, but there were 10 foot flames directly behind our home and –
T. Hall: What we thought was behind our home. You couldn’t really even see.
C. Hall: Right, we thought as we were leaving – we were probably, I’d say 200 to 400 meters – no more like 400 meters, a quarter mile from the house. At least, maybe a half mile. And perception of that is so hard because of the smoke. And there was a canyon between our vantage point and the home. And as we’re standing there, really, the sun dropped so quickly and the wind was blowing from the north and then we realized, we looked to our right and very close to us the flames had started to kick up in the canyon. And so we were now not only watching our house being threatened, but realizing that now if we don’t get out quickly, we’re going to be flushed out by fire and potentially going to be unable to leave this spot where we’re essentially trapped.
And so we started to jump in the cars and – with nowhere to go at that point, just figure out what to do for the night. And so we headed back to Opie’s Barbeque where several of our neighbors were and one of our neighbors, Susie Fowler, who did lose her home, was there, and she at that point had heard the news that her home was potentially gone, as we had as well. And so a lot of it is: What’s true? What isn’t? But, she had a very laissez-faire attitude about it. Let’s just let it happen as we all tried to. You know, maybe this is a chance to simplify and be positive. And in the immediate moment, we looked at each other and realized it’s eight o’clock at night and we don’t know where to go. So we started to try to call hotels in Marble Falls and Burnet and everything was booked. So –
KUT News: So what did you do?
T. Hall: So, we – we’re heading back to Marble Falls and just thinking that we’re going to keep traveling up 71 until we find one of the small towns that has a motel room available. Because it’s – as Casie said – it’s, it was at least 60 miles around to get to Austin, where we had friends and probably places that we could have stayed. And so we head back toward Marble Falls and we get a call from my aunt who’s obviously very worried knowing what the situation is, she’s out of town. She lives in Horseshoe Bay. And so she offered the house for us to spend the night there. We go there with our cats that our neighbors evacuated from our home, take them there to her house, and we stopped by Wal-Mart on the way, bought some clean clothes, toothbrush, and some TV dinners and we were exhausted.
C. Hall: And still filthy from the ranch. Truly caked in dirt and disgusting, so we actually kind of tried to have some reprieve, and just took hot showers, threw some laundry in and had some frozen dinners and probably tried to hit the pillow by about one AM. And of course, we just couldn’t sleep, we looked at each other and said, “I think we have a probably a 25 percent chance of having a home when we wake up in the morning.” So we’re going to have our Wal-Mart toothbrush to our name at this point, and that’s about it, and our car, and our daughter, and our pets, so –
T. Hall: Yeah. And so, we wake up with the sun coming up the next morning, it was about – I don’t know 6, 6:30.
C. Hall: I think we got up at about six, knowing we wanted to catch the sunrise and see.
T. Hall: Yeah, and so we jumped in the car, wrangled the cats that were loose in the garage, totally freaked out, they’re outdoor cats, and they were as scared as anyone, and so we pack up all of our stuff and head back to the road block, we go back to Fall Creek Road where we had the vantage point the day before, and actually the owner of that property, that hill, was there this time, so we met him, Charles Meek, and he said, “Yeah, y’all are welcome to come, get up on here, take a look and keep an eye on everything.”
And so we’re, we see now in the light that our house stands there. It’s burned all around it, like basically a horseshoe from the north side burned black all around our house, and it was just basically an island of – in the middle of this moonscape that survived. And that was a testament, at that moment, we were pretty emotional, and it was just a testament to the efforts of the fire relief. You could tell that they had to work really hard to keep our house from burning. And so at this point, there’s still smolders everywhere. It seems somewhat in control around our directly – immediately around our home – it had burned everything close enough to be fuel, really –
C. Hall: Patch of cedar here, and oak tree there.
T. Hall: And so, things were smoldering and there were little fires all over, and from our vantage point, the fire had come from the other side of the house. And so we could see these smolderings and plumes of smoke coming up that a cedar would go up or whatever behind the house, and it looked from where we were, that it could be our house on fire.
C. Hall: Actually our daughter’s bedroom looked – it looked like it was on fire.
T. Hall: It looked like it was burning. And so one of our neighbors, Andy Petract and myself, we decided to hike across the canyon and sneak into the neighborhood. There was no power or anything but we have a swimming pool, so we decided we thought we could bucket water to whatever smoldering areas, wet down the house or whatever, to try to save the house.
C. Hall: Well, and being that we’re on a well, when your power goes out, we don’t have any water and of course, part of me is thinking, “That would be really nice to make sure that our house doesn’t catch on fire,” but what’s more important is Taylor and the decision he’s making to hike the canyon was probably not the safest one, but the curiosity and then just the desire of my home is right there, and we feel totally powerless on this hill. The euphoria of cresting that hill that morning and seeing it’s still there, the anticipation, and seeing it there was amazing, but as that sort of started to dissipate, we realized, ok we’re still pretty threatened, because those cedars were flaming, and the oak trees back behind, toward Vick and Kendra’s, our other neighbors house, still on fire, smoke blowing directly into their home.
And with that wind, any spark catches just the right spot and it could go up, and so not having, you know, having eyes but not having feet on the ground was a tough dilemma to be in, so we all discussed, and Taylor and Andy decided to hike the canyon, which in and of itself was dangerous, just the hike, let alone going to the areas that were still burned and burning to try to put fires out.
T. Hall: And so we got over there, and there were still – We could see there was a patrol, sheriff’s deputy car patrolling our neighborhood and it would – every 15 minutes or so, it would drive through and just make a patrol around, and then you would see every half hour to an hour a fire truck come in, or a power truck come in and take down a power line or whatever. And so Andy and I were kind of – it was really kind of strange we’re ducking and hiding from the authorities and we were laughing, it was like this, you know, established middle aged business men haven’t run from the cops in a long time.
C. Hall: And they’re hiding behind the oak tree in front of our house.
T. Hall: Yeah, we’re ducking and hiding behind the oak tree and Casie is up on top of the hill across the canyon, and we’re talking to her via cell phone, and I was like, “OK, you’re our eyes in the sky, where are the cops? Where are the cops?”
C. Hall: And then you got mad when I didn’t let you know they were coming around the corner. He’s like, “Where was my heads up that time?”
T. Hall: And so, Andy and I put out a few smolders, saw that the house seemed pretty safe. I went into the house, got my passport, we got our baby daughter’s pearls that she got at her – she got when she was born, by her grandparents and a few other keepsake things and then took off. And we left there and then, we all kind of decided, ok, it seemed like everything was dying down, the wind had slowed, which was really the main thing everything got out of control, because the winds were just, very strong out of the north.
They had kind of slowed, so we felt somewhat safe. We decide we hadn’t eaten; Casie and I look at each other. Everybody kind of disperses and we say, “We’ll stay in touch and we’ll talk soon.” Tries to go out and find a place to grab a bite to eat. Casie and I decide to drive south, the 60 mile route, to get around, to get to the other side of the blockade where my parents have a house in the Spicewood area.
C. Hall: And we have a commercial property as well on the corner of 71 and the Pedernales River. So we were – additionally, though we didn’t have any possessions there at the time – we were really hoping to make sure that was OK as well, not knowing how far the fires had gone east.
T. Hall: And it turns out that the bank next door to our property is where all of the fire efforts in that area were stationed, was – that was there station where they had all their relief, their food, everything- it was temporary headquarters. And so we got a lot of – once we got over there, we received a lot of information from them, but on our way back around, so now the emotions, you know as Casie said we were related, we’re so excited to see that everything was still there. Although badly burned around, we had a home. And so we were so happy and relieved. And then on our drive, a good friend and owner of Spicewood Vineyards, Ron Yates, calls us and says, “Hey, are y’all in the area?” And we said, “Well actually, we’re driving around, we found out earlier that our house was safe, and so forth, and so we’re excited, we’re going to grab a bite to eat and try to relax a little bit.” And he said, “Oh, I don’t know. Have y’all not heard that the fire’s kicked up again and they’re moving back from – in the same direction, a little bit of a different angle, so the winds had picked back up, and there was a huge, huge fire out of control again, burning right toward our house again,” and so he said you need to get here fast.
C. Hall: He said, “You guys better get here fast.”
T. Hall: And so we dropped the idea of going to grab a bite to eat and came in from the other side, the east side on the blockade, and at this point, our neighbors, Vick and Kendra, we’d been in communication with them, they had found a house that the people were still in their home, off Pedernales Canyon trail.
C. Hall: On the other side of the river from us, so our neighborhood sort of backs up to the north side of the Pedernales River. And if you’re standing on the other side of our neighborhood, you’re looking down at what was the river and directly across the street from that is the end of this neighborhood, Pedernales Canyon. And that’s where they were, on the balcony. They had basically knocked on our door and said: we think we can see your home from here – our home from here, can we take a look? And the folks were nice enough to let us all in and watch. We couldn’t see our house, but Vick and Kendra could see theirs, and we could see the house at the end of the street, and –
T. Hall: And also, this place, this home that we were watching the fires come across in from, the home directly on either side was burned to the ground at this point.
C. Hall: And across the street.
T. Hall: Right, and across the street.
C. Hall: I mean, nothing left except for a slab, and some char.
T. Hall: Smolderings all around –
KUT News: I’m sorry, who’s house?
C. Hall: These are the folks that lived across the river from us, basically.
T. Hall: And we didn’t know these folks.
C. Hall: And so they were just basically nice enough knowing that we were in the same situation they had been in as well, they didn’t evacuate. The husband and the father, who owned this house across the Pedernales from us, chose to stay and defend the home, and hose it down all night long while they watched their neighbors houses burn right next door. And they having seen that, certainly had empathy for us and let our neighbors, Vick and Kendra, as well as Taylor and I, I think that was it. Were there other folks that came in?
T. Hall: There were – it was like a hurricane party.
C. Hall: It kind of turned into a hurricane party.
T. Hall: You know it’s like: everybody’s hold up, and watching the damage that they couldn’t really do anything about it, and so there were a few other neighbors that we didn’t know there as well, all just trying to catch a glimpse of what’s going on. Get an idea of how the new fire was threatening. And so forth. And so we watched there for a little while, and Pedernales Canyon trail, this road is a windy road that goes back, and it’s the only way in back to this back area, it was threatened by fire again. And so we started realizing that if this gets too bad and the threat really moves close to us here, that we might not have a way to get out of here quickly enough. So we all at the same time, kind of seemed like everyone came to this realization that helicopters are flying around everywhere dropping water and the fire’s moving closer and closer.
C. Hall: And it’s coming from another side as well, towards like it was the night before. And in the meantime, Rob had called us before we even arrived there, Ron Yates called and said, “Actually, I think your house is probably gone.”
T. Hall: Yeah, I’m pretty sure your house is gone.
C. Hall: So we, you know, at this point, we can’t even see our home even though we see this wall of black smoke. We see our neighbors homes that are closer to us, but we still don’t know if our home is there. We just know it doesn’t look like something is on fire right behind Vick and Kendra’s house, but maybe it is.
T. Hall: And this was like the moment where we just kind of all looked at each other and said, “Ok, this is pretty much out of our control, let’s go to the bar and have a beer. Get a burger, and so we go right around to Poodie’s.”
C. Hall: And just try to decompress.
T. Hall: Poodie’s Roadhouse out there on the road top. And decided, we sat down and I’d had like two sips of my beer and my burger was ordered and we were all kind of trying to let our hair down a little bit and I get a call from a neighbor, the fellow that owned the property from the hill vantage point we initially went to, that we had met that morning, and he had been fighting fires all morning off the back of a truck that was a local construction company guy that also lived over there. Dave Conwell is the construction guy.
And he had the truck, a water truck, and a fire hose off the back of it. And now the fires were moving towards these guys property off on Fall Creek Road. And so they were very motivated to fight the fires. Well, Charles Meek, the fellow that called me, he’s a middle aged fellow and he’s been out there, working really hard on the other end of this fire hose all morning, and he was just worn out. He said, “Can you please help me?” And so, Vick Araho and myself, we go to the temporary station at the bank. All the efforts had been organized and set up there, and so we go and speak to the officer in charge, and say this is the call we got, can we go back there and help them and relieve these guys. And he said, pretty much at this point, we’ll take all the help we can get. So when we go up to speak to this guy, there’s a retired fire chief from Houston. Gill, and I can’t remember his last name, he was talking to the officer in charge there. And he walked up while we were having this conversation, he said, “I’ll go with these guys, I’ll help them.” And so he was obviously very knowledgeable, and knew what he was doing with two guys that had no idea.
C. Hall: Two flip-flop shod civilians.
T. Hall: Vick was wearing flip flops and swim trunks and t-shirts. Certainly not firefighting gear. So anyway, Gill guides us back through the blockade. And we drive down the highway toward the new, the big part that the fire is burning through. And they put us on the back of the truck with the fire hose. And actually, we are carrying, we’re hauling the hose. And Gill is operating the hose and spraying the flames and trying to stop the fire. And one thing that really hit me at this point, there’s smoke everywhere, it’s really hard to see, but you would see out of the smoke all of these small rural fire-department trucks, towns that I recognized the names on them from the panhandle in Texas and so forth. And it was just like: all of these, you know, you saw how volunteers would come from all over the state, it was kind of magical.
It was a pretty cool moment. And so we all, we sat and fought fire all day, pretty much started losing ground and decided that it was kind of a moot point at this point for us and so we got relieved and we left. And went back and finally got our beer, and relaxed for a while.
C. Hall: In the meantime, while Taylor and Vick of course as they depart, I was really torn about the choice for them to go and fight fire as civilians, and go into this place. Clearly it’s blocked off for a reason; they don’t want civilians back there. So I just looked at both my husband and our friend Vick, and said, “You guys need to be smart. You know, your lives are the most important things, saving a structure is not anywhere near as important as that.” It was funny, because Vick looked at me and, he’s kind of, you know, a macho guy, and he said, “I hear what you’re saying.”
Really, he registered it. And later that night, he said, “I just kept hearing your voice in the back of my head, saying, ‘Be smart.’” Be smart. And the choice for y’all to go was a really noble one, but Kendra and I were also scared, because as you said it really was dangerous. I mean, there are so many different issues with the winds and Taylor, I remember him talking about standing there, and you’re looking at a blaze directly in front of you but because of the winds and because of the sparks, you would feel the heat from behind you all of a sudden where there was no fire and BOOM, a huge tree is up in 20-foot-flames. It was right behind you, and there were many moments where you guys had to run for your lives from the fire as it was coming through.
T. Hall: Yeah, so basically when we got over there, we were fighting – the fire was on the north side of this hill, and so they were trying to make a stand on the other side of this hill, and when it came over, we were going to try to hold the fire there. Well, we fought fire for a while and then all of a sudden it – a bunch of the fire trucks, the rural trucks came from over the hill, moving pretty fast, and kind of seemed like they’d lost a little bit of the control of it. It came over the hill, we fought there for a while, and then we just said, at one moment, they just said, “RUN!” And we all just dropped the hose and took off running down the hill, and ran away, and then they set up the new front at the highway on 71, and that’s where they were hoping to stop the fire right there. And really the big priority with this effort, at this moment was, there’s a big distribution center out there for produce.
C. Hall: In about two miles, maybe less than that as the crow flies from our house, maybe only about a mile.
T. Hall: Not even two miles. And so, it’s a huge business and there’s lots of trucks there, and it’s a big wooden structure. And so, they were – that was a big concern at the moment, they were trying to keep the fires off of that. And that was just on the south side of 71, so we regroup, get back at the highway, and all of the trees in the brush line along the highway was so dense, that once the fire got there, it just, it raged out of control. We would look behind us, like 50 yards behind us, and there would be another – it had jumped. Just was blazing, out of control. And so, that was kind of the moment we felt a little defeated. And we’re worn out and decided that, Vick and I had decided that we had kind of done our neighborly duty for the day and left and…
C. Hall: And at that point the sun was starting to go down. It was getting late.
T. Hall: It was getting late. It was probably six o’clock in the evening or so then. And, so then we go back and just stay at my parents’ house in Spicewood. That’s in the Coves neighborhood that’s on the lake, and at this point we had heard rumors, and we’re pretty sure that our house is safe at this point.
C. Hall: We had a neighbor, actually Mike Tyson, stayed through the entirety, he never evacuated, he never left the neighborhood. And he, so we didn’t realize this earlier in the day, but we’re starting to get reports through other neighbors, Mike says everybody’s house is still alright, but the neighborhood’s badly burned. The trees are gone, but every home is still standing. That we’d get another report of so-and-so’s house did burn and you know, it’s all the rumor mill, but we had heard that our house was alright, so we just said, “Whoever doesn’t have a place to stay, come stay with us at Taylor’s parents’ house,” so we had a little – again it was very much like a hurricane party, I mean we just – kind of helpless and all ready to just let loose a little bit, and in the meantime, when Taylor was fighting fires, Kendra and I actually went back to the main station at 71 and Pace Bend Road – or I should say the headquarters, the temporary headquarters, and tried to talk to the firefighters there and let them know that at our commercial property, we had access to 20,000 gallons of water, two storage tanks, and if they need it, they were – I mean, there was no water, that was the whole issue with the drought.
There’s very little water if any to pull out of the Pedernales, the firefighters I think were dipping into people’s pools, dipping into tanks, the helicopters were, and so we offered that to the fire departments and in the meantime also said, “Hey, in exchange for water, can you give us some information on some homes?” and we met up with a woman who lived at a ranch property, just sort of two ranch properties down from our neighborhood. Actually a neighbor of Susie Fowler, the potter, Shade Tree Potter who did lose her home. And this woman actually lives in Houston at the time, but was obviously very concerned about her home, so we took her back to show her that her house was still there from that vantage point off of Pedernales Canyon Trail. And yet again had the fire trucks in that same area that had been so burned that they came through and evacuated us and just said, “Nobody’s supposed to be back here. You guys, the fire’s coming, you gotta go.” So, it really felt as though you were in an inferno. Everywhere we went it felt like fire was an imminent danger coming down upon us.
And so until we really got away to Taylor’s parents’ house, the Coves, and it’s got that – once we’re all there, we’re standing on the back porch. And we could see the fires behind us in Spicewood, sort of in the west part of Spicewood, and then we look off in the distance and you’re actually from that point looking east, sort of northeast, and you could see the fires in Steiner Ranch. And then when you look sort of to the southeast, you could see the haze from the fires in Bastrop.
So from that spot, we could actually see the three blazes, for all intents and purposes, and we just, I mean it really did feel apocalyptic in the sense with all of that going on around us and then as far away as we were at that point, you could smell smoke all around you, of course you couldn’t tell, well is it my hair from the smoke that I’ve been around all day, you know my hair and my clothes. And when you and Vick walked in, I mean they really did look like they had just come out of a mine explosion. They were coated from head to toe in black soot, and coughing and hoarse, yet you guys were pretty giddy from the excitement really and being able to do what you did feeling relatively strong and able, having helped save that one guy’s trailer that almost burned.
T. Hall: Yeah, so then we all just relaxed that evening at the house.
C. Hall: As much as we could.
T. Hall: I get a call from the neighbor again the next morning, early in the morning, asking us to go back out and help them again on the truck, so Vick and I did – we did that again went out there and the person who’s the owner of the home that was evacuated when we were there, we fought the fire off of this home out there, and he was there that morning with all the kids and the whole family.
C. Hall: This was Tuesday morning right?
T. Hall: This was Tuesday morning, and so we were going, we’d just gotten back out there to help fight fires again and they were somewhat more in control at this point. They were basically trying to make sure that there weren’t any smolders that got out of hand again, and so that’s what we were going to help with, and this family came out of their house, they’re all standing around the yard and it’s burnt all around the house except, the house was saved. And they were just so thankful, and it was a pretty cool moment. So we then, Vick and I, helped for a few hours and at this point, they started now basically making the wall of fire retardant via airplanes. They were flying airplanes over and making a line with the fire-retardant to really insure that they were going to stop the fires at this point just south of 71, and that was kind of – when they really started feeling like they were gaining control of the situation, and so we helped for a little while again then, and then they let us into the neighborhood, we got word.
C. Hall: Actually it was earlier that day, before you guys even went to fight that.
T. Hall: That’s right.
C. Hall: We got a call from a neighbor that said: not that the neighborhood was open, but that the road block had been lifted. And so we all jumped in the cars and apparently made this small window where technically our neighborhood was still under evacuation. But they didn’t have a sheriff’s station there yet. And so we were able to get through and we all flooded back into the neighborhood, all what – there are 13 homes in our neighborhood. So all 13 homes, we re-inhabit the houses.
And within probably an hour or less, I’d say 30 minutes, there was a sheriff at the front stopping whoever else wanted to get back in from getting in. But we were in, and Taylor then leaves again to go try to fight fires, and the sheriff lets him out obviously. But I’m at home, by myself, and I don’t really know how many at that point neighbors are back home, and we don’t have any running water. We don’t have any power, and the winds start to kick back up yet again. And I look and all around our house, the cedars start to catch flame.
T. Hall: What’s left.
C. Hall: What’s left, yeah, the few green spots that are left are starting to flame up, and they’re so dense, they were, I should say, so dense all around our home, that they just, they were smoldering underneath that sort of… what is it, all the debris that falls off the cedars over years and years and years.
T. Hall: It’s just fuel waiting.
C. Hall: And so I start, I mean I really did have to laugh at myself at moments but I was scared our house was going to catch again. I filled as many buckets of water as I can, and put them on, we had this garden cart that was supposed to be able to haul 2,000 pounds, but it had burned to a crisp in the fire. So the wheels are shot, I mean they’re blackened, charred rubber. Actually the rubber was pretty much all gone. And so it’s this creaking, teetering, burned cart that I’m trying to haul buckets of water to the cedars that are in flames and dump water on and finally I say: I’ve got to figure out what neighbors are here.
And I call the Petrocks, Andy Petrock who hiked the canyon with Taylor, and he says I’ll be right there, and he comes over in a tractor that he has, and they start taking this front loader and scooping water out of the pool and dumping it onto the cedars that are flaming and the whole neighborhood came together to help me put the trees out around our home, and then we get a call from another neighbor who has the same problem going on, we all then go together over there. And then another neighbor, Sue Ellen, was patrolling the street up and down looking for spots that were flaming. We really did come together to try to help each other out and put all the flames out.
As the winds started to die down, and we got most of those smolders at least soaked in water enough to where they weren’t a big threat. That’s about the time that Taylor came home. And we both looked at each other and said: Alright, well we’re here now, but we don’t have any running water, we don’t have any electricity, and I think we ended up going back to your parents’ place that night, is that right?
T. Hall: I think so, and they – it was really amazing, they got the power back on really – it was like within 24 hours after we had been allowed back in, which was amazing.
C. Hall: Even though the power lines had burned.
T. Hall: The fire had burned all through there. And so like for them to be able to get back out and re-establish all of the electric lines, I was amazed, when I noticed how quickly they had done that. And that’s one thing you saw when you were out fighting the fires along the highway and so forth, there were all of the power company trucks were right next to the fire trucks, and they were working, all this fire is burning toward them, either to take down lines and secure the power situation, or to repair where they had already burned. And it was – you could tell, you saw the fruit of their efforts with how quickly the power came back on.
KUT News: So what day did they let you back in?
C. Hall: Well, we were back in Tuesday mid-morning, although be it not legally, we were back in Tuesday, and really at that point, one of the officers – and actually it was Wednesday, we did stay Tuesday night, the fire trucks – we woke up to firemen in our backyard, putting out – early in the morning putting out cedars that were flaming, and kind of checking our property. And we got out and spoke with them and they said, “You guys shouldn’t be back here. It’s not safe. But clearly you’ve done a really good job of keeping your neighborhood safe. And you know, thank you for helping us out.”
And we were back in – we thanked them as well, course it was Austin fire department and they hadn’t been there, but in that conversation they, as we were also able to see the tire marks as well as the gutter that had been ripped down that was on fire, as well as the fact that the water hose was still dripping a little bit of water when we arrived. Because the fire department had clearly worked to save our home. And you could see evidence that they had even sprayed down our daughter’s wooden swing set. And tried to save our kayaks, one of them was melted, but we had some kayaks stored in the trees and you really did see –
T. Hall: They saved my bees, I have a bee hive and it burned all around the hive and the hive is sitting kind of surrounded by cedars. And it burned all around there and it got within a few feet of it, but they obviously fought it off of that. So you could – there was just – we were started to notice all of this unbelievable efforts.
C. Hall: First responders…
KUT News: Do you know what fire departments were out there?
C. Hall: We do, we know that, and this is sort of what Taylor and I said to each other when we saw that the fire had truly burned to our back door. And our house had actually at one point been on fire with that gutter, and we said we got to figure out who this was and how we can help them. And it was the Spicewood volunteer fire department that actually arrived first on the scene, backed up by the Pedernales Fire Department. And so those two departments work together to really save all the homes that they saved and then the few civilians that jumped in as well, Taylor and Vick.
That helped out, but those two fire departments get the credit really for doing so much work and being so well trained and we as a result, because we do so much work with Spicewood vineyards, because Taylor is a caterer, we throw parties, we know how it works, we said we’ve got to figure something out, we’ve got to do something for this community, for these firefighters and for the people like Susie Fowler and other friends that lost their home. And as well as folks that we didn’t know that lost their homes and so, really that Tuesday morning when we got there is when the idea butted for both of us to really do a fundraiser to help out, and of course so many other people had the same inspiration.
Let’s use all of our resources and so within three or four days there were fundraisers popping up everywhere, so, little ones, big ones, and it was on Sunday, September 11th that within – really we pulled something together within four days with the help of the vineyard and Spicewood Arts Society, and their networking.
T. Hall: And then a bunch of local musicians jumped on board and we ended up having a full bill for the whole day, musician after musician.
C. Hall: Inside and outside.
T. Hall: On two different stages, yeah. And so there was entertainment. J5 came and did appetizers between the lunch serving from Opie’s Barbeque, and then I served the dinner and then, so we basically had a continuous food service and music and wine from the vineyard being poured as well as a few people donated some keg beer, and a bunch of bottles of water and so we had a – everyone was – the spirit was really magical… that day, because everyone was so giving. And so- and that showed how much money was raised, so quickly people were coming and- we had silent auction items and so forth and people- there was a donation request at the door and people were giving much more than that.
C. Hall: Well we had a $40 suggested donation to get in to have the food all day, to have the music all day, and I remember somebody coming up to me as I was kind of stepping aside from working the door and he said: look at this check. And somebody had written $1,000 check instead of a $40 check. And we had person after person donating: Oh, it’s $40? Here let me give you $80. You know, just doubling and the silent auction items – another woman – I think it was UT tickets, box seats or something really great, and I think the asking price was outrageous, I mean because they were great seats and for a really big game and – it was either $1,000 or $2,000, and she went ahead and bought them at the full price, the full silent auction price, so they closed out the item, and then she re-donated them.
So it was just the generosity, the spirit, the community coming together, it really, it… Spicewood is such a unique community in that… it’s not Austin, yet there’s a lot of tie to Austin, there’s a lot of the same mentality of keep Austin weird, you know, Spicewood’s definitely got some eclectic folks. It’s spread over three counties, lots of distance between neighbors, but it’s small enough that everybody really does feel like they know each other and we were really able to come together during that benefit, and kind of breathe a sigh of relief to a certain extent. Support those that did lose so much, and celebrate what we are as a community, celebrate the diversity within the community, and the sort of general cohesiveness at the same time. That we all chose to be in this place for the same reason. So it really was a special, special day.
KUT News: How much did you raise?
C. Hall: $40,000. So we were able to distribute that, we did 30 percent to the Pedernales Fire Department, 30 percent to the Spicewood volunteer fire department and 40 percent went to the committee that is now standing as the Spicewood disaster relief committee. That 40 percent then, they decide how it would be distributed to help people rebuild. And so we channeled the funds through the Highland Lakes legacy fund, as a sort of cougher to monitor those funds, and then the legacy fund – as people wrote their checks out to the legacy fund, they then distributed those checks to the fire departments, and to the disaster relief committee.
So that committee is actually still standing and functioning through Grace Outreach Church and we know several of the folks that are working on it, and they’re still doing a lot of great work. Mark Creany and Karen Lacey and Pastor Tommy Wilborn, I believe, are all working together with FEMA and several other government groups to get people the things they need to rebuild their lives. So it’s been great to see it, and it’s still ongoing, as well as the fact that, you know, be it a tornado or another fire, this kind of thing can happen again in our community and we need to be able to band together in an organized fashion and try to help everyone out, so …
KUT News: What an unbelievable story, I mean, y’all not only were in a fire, but you fought the fire, both of you fought the fire. We’ve had lots of stories, but not many have gone in and actually been able to fight their fire.
C. Hall: Right.
KUT News: So, what is the name of your neighborhood?
C. Hall: It is the Estates Above Fall Creek.
KUT News:v Just a second, the Estates Above Fall Creek.
C. Hall: That’s right. And the street name is Fall Creek Estates Drive. Which is quite a long address to have to write out.
KUT News: Can you say that again? We raised…
C. Hall: Yes. In our fundraising efforts, on September 11th at Spicewood vineyards, we raised $40,000 to be distributed among the two fire departments, the Pedernales Fire department and the Spicewood volunteer fire department as well as to those affected by the fires who lost their home and damaged their property as well.
T. Hall: One great thing about that too, as far as the funds that were raised with this relief fundraiser was that the funds were a little bit more readily available. There wasn’t as much of a lag wait time for a lot of the other relief funds that were raised. And so the victims, you know, it wasn’t enough money to go back and start building homes or anything, but it was like money they could put their hands on and buy essential things to –
C. Hall: Chainsaws and…
T. Hall: To begin the process. And so that was, one other great thing about it, it was immediate relief. And there was also obviously a lot of relief afterward that was very necessary, that is necessary. ‘Cause they’re still ongoing, but that was a much needed relief at a critical time.
C. Hall: And to be able to hand those checks over as the one photo shows, to the fire departments, was really… a great moment. And we have a photo as well that I should probably send. Vick Oraho as well as me handing the check to the Pedernales Fire Department, which was then put in the Highland Lakes Newspaper and so on, but they had their fundraiser, was actually. It’s their yearly fundraiser was prescheduled just a month after the fires. I think it was October fourth or October tenth, somewhere in there, and so interestingly enough, they had this scheduled for – I mean I’m sure six months before the signs and the fliers were up, fires came through, everybody really rallied behind and knew – I mean this party that they threw, the barbeque, was so much fun.
It was a really great event, they said that they had probably quadruple the numbers that they’ve ever had for their fundraiser and it was pretty neat to be able to get on stage and hand the check to them and have them say, “This is how we’re going to use this, we lost this brush truck and need repairs on all these other brush trucks” – ’cause they put their trucks through hell and back, literally, as they were fighting these fires. So, and by no means was our fundraising effort the only one, there were so many other people in the community I know, down in the Under Deli, one of the businesses put something together. There were several, didn’t Ilsa’s Kitchen and – so many people, just doing what they could you know.
Be it selling $5 slices of pizza or Poodie’s putting something together with bands, I mean everybody just wanted to do whatever they could with their means to help raise money for the small community because as several people started to say, Spicewood is kind of the red-headed step child. The fires weren’t as big as Bastrop, and it wasn’t Steiner Ranch, and it’s just, it’s little old Spicewood out there, you turn on the news and we felt like we were burning to the ground, yet you didn’t – it was like: Oh, there are some fires in Spicewood, too. So we didn’t feel like there was that much media going on, so we said, “We have to do it ourselves. Let’s pull ourselves up by the bootstraps and get the funding,” and of course FEMA showed up later, and we did get plenty of aid, but there was a sentiment of “we might not get the help, so let’s do it ourselves.”
KUT News: Well, unbelievable. You’re right. There are just wonderful stories coming out of Spicewood.
T. Hall: Yeah…
KUT News: Anything else you’d like to add?
C. Hall: I can’t think of anything else.
T. Hall: Um… one other thing I would say. I think it was like two weeks later, after the fires, everything had kind of started to move back to normalcy and we – was it two weeks? The fire from the south side.
C. Hall: OH!
T. Hall: This is right at the time of the year where the winds are shifting coming out of the north and out of the south. The really bad fires, we’ve been discussing. The Spicewood fires were – the winds were out of the north. Well about two weeks later, the winds were really strong out of the South. And there’s an old movie filming.
C. Hall: It’s where they filmed The Alamo.
T. Hall: Yeah, that’s right. I forget the name of the place, but the place caught fire, and from our house, as the crow flies down the Pedernales River, it’s like five miles or so.
C. Hall: Maybe, not even.
T. Hall: Something like that, and so we start seeing this huge fire exactly from the direction of the wind. On the complete opposite side of our house, so there’s plenty of fuel for it to burn to us from that direction, and so…
C. Hall: And we’re outside playing with our daughter, and Taylor says: I see smoke. And then within 5 minutes, what was a smoke stack turned into orange and red flames that we could see in.
T. Hall: Huge fire.
C. Hall: Getting closer and closer. Yet again, and so all because of where our house sits. We actually ended up having, again, the neighborhood come together in our driveway, standing on their tiptoes.
T. Hall: Standing on their cars.
C. Hall: Getting on the cars to try to figure out: is this thing coming our way? And calling the fire department and seeing what they have to say and just going through it all again. And they were all able to get that fire under control, and we all went to bed feeling OK, but not great, wondering: are we going to have to evacuate again before too long?
T. Hall: And it’s just crazy, you hear – you’ve heard and seen so many publications since all this happened, that this was the year of the fire in Texas. And it truly was because the ranch that we were – when the fires came through Spicewood, I have been out there with my father meeting volunteer fire efforts to fight fires this year, off of that ranch.
C. Hall: Yeah, in 2011.
T. Hall: Yeah, and – the same year that the fires burned through Spicewood. And so, they experienced a lot of their ranch land burn. And so it’s really – it was a tough year for Texas, as far as the droughts and the fire situation. But it showed, I guess the last thing to walk away with these stories, is it showed the resiliency in the community of Texas, is pretty cool.
KUT News: When did you reunite with your daughter?
C. Hall: Yes, that was on Wednesday, September seventh. And I could not see her soon enough. While I was so grateful that she was in safe hands and not with us through all of this, trying to imagine hauling around a – at the time under two-years-old. She was about, oh, I guess 20 months old, 21, 22 months old, something like that. And I just – I kept thinking to myself I cannot imagine having her here with us. I mean, I would just have been completely absent from any threat of fire. But when we did see her, it was a great time to reunite and see our dogs again too, but to have our daughter back with us was wonderful.
KUT News: You didn’t get to say goodbye to her.
C. Hall: No, we really didn’t. I mean I think I gave her a quick kiss and we jumped in the car and hauled off and again Taylor didn’t even have his wallet with him, so we grabbed nothing before we left. We were smart enough, barely in the rush to get the car seat out of our car before, and put it in the grandparents’ car. So it was all we could do to get that done, so yeah it was hard to be away from her for those days to be certain, but we were again, very grateful that she was safe. And the other thing is what Taylor said, with the year of the fires, I had this fear in the back of my mind, it’s just as dry in North Texas. This could be happening there. What if a fire starts to blaze through when she’s not with us?
KUT News: So you were able to say goodbye. That’s good.
C. Hall: Yes, fortunately. I think, or was she napping? She might have been napping.
T. Hall: She was.
C. Hall: She was. She was napping. So we didn’t get to say goodbye. I think I have it crafted in my head that I gave her a quick kiss goodbye, but I didn’t.
T. Hall: No, I don’t think so.
KUT News: Well, at least she wasn’t with you.
T. Hall: That was it, we kept – throughout the whole few-day timespan that all this madness was going on, we would stop and look at each other and say, “Well, at least Noey is not with us. She’s in safe hands.”
C. Hall: Right.
T. Hall: Far away from here.
C. Hall: It was hard enough to not have our two cats with us. We actually ended up boarding them at some point on Monday, we found a spot, we took them to our vet and boarded them. So yeah, it was quite the experience, but we were grateful and so lucky to have our home, and know that no one was injured, by any stretch of the means severely. We just have some friends that lost a lot, and that’s ok.
KUT News: I’ve got a question. When you got back Tuesday morning, and then you took off Taylor, to fight fires. Did you take the only vehicle? Were you stranded without a car?
C. Hall: No, fortunately I did have a car. And I actually think you went in Vick’s truck, so I had –
T. Hall: We went in my truck on Tuesday, on Monday we went in Vick’s truck.
C. Hall: So yeah, and that was the other thing. When our neighbors, Vick and Kendra, when they saved our cats, they were able to grab a few things for us, a few sentimental things, my photo albums being the biggest one, and our cats, and they threw them all in the back of Taylor’s truck, and took that to Opie’s Barbeque, which was kind of that meeting spot. So we had both of our vehicles, and a couple of sentimental things. Certainly there was some stuff that they couldn’t grab because they had to get their own things, but it was very, very neighborly of them to head over to our house and throw some things in since we weren’t there to do what so many friends were able to do and grab some things.
KUT News: Well, it’s an incredible story. It’s just tough to have to go through all that. You must have been living on adrenaline.
C. Hall: We were.
T. Hall: We were.
C. Hall: Yeah, we really were, and to put the fundraiser together, so last minute, that was all adrenaline. I don’t know- I look at what we were able to do and how we had almost 500 people there and all the musicians, it was adrenaline and it was a lot of folks coming together. Vick pulled the bands together, and I pulled the food together. All I did was kind of call some folks and they had the ball rolling. Ron and Annie putting together the wine, I mean it was just… how did it all happen, but it was so many people, Kendra putting the silent auction, it was… it was great.
KUT News: So it was a committee that decided where the money was going to go?
C. Hall: It – that was me, trying to figure that out. And that’s where all my time and energy went, was how- when people write a check, how are they going to feel comfortable with where their money was going to go, so I really did work hard to come up with a clear-cut statement and investigate that the Highland Legacy Fund was the safest spot to put that money, and to delegate those funds. Of course, too, then you have to deal with all the 501C3, and our 3C, I can never get that straight. But making sure that you have the tax structure correct for all of that.
And so that was a lot of work to figure all that out, and I had a lot of questions. To a certain extent I felt under fire because people said: Well, I want to make sure my money goes to this section and that section, which is why we divided it as we did. We wanted to make sure that everybody felt evenly, and we said please feel free, if you’d rather all of your money to go to one fire department or the other, by all means, write a check directly to them. And we’re completely comfortable with that. But we just want to make sure that when you come in, you’re donating something that you feel comfortable.
And… that committee was at that point so early on, the committee that figured out how to distribute funds to those who lost, the victims if you will, they – that was a kind of organic and shifting committee at the time, because it was, it was days after- and the fires were still burning. And people like Kera and Lacy who runs the Spicewood community center really stepped up. The Lions Club, Spicewood Lions Club has been incredible in their efforts, to help the community. You’ve got Brett Wice, and Julie Wice and several folks that are just really leading and helping do the good work that needs to be done to help people out that need it, cause for several people, insurance did not come through, or they didn’t have insurance, or they were renting a trailer and lost everything and have no ability to recover that, so there is some need within our community for that.
KUT News: The two photos you sent us, one is of the $40,000 check. Where did you present that?
C. Hall: I presented one check, which I believe was the 30 percent of the total $40,000. It was around I think $13,600. I presented one of those checks to the Pedernales Fire Department, and then the photo that I sent is actually of me presenting that check to the Spicewood Volunteer Fire Department. And that was at their fundraiser, which was I think sometime at the end of October, or early November, I can’t recall the exact date. And it was really great to show up, and I actually had my daughter with me, and she played for a little bit around the fire trucks and it really, that Spicewood Volunteer Fire Department is run by several families in the community that just love helping out. And they are skilled firefighters, they’re good old boys and gals, and they were having a good time enjoying the sort of fruits of their labor and so to present that check to them was really a great experience. It was heartwarming.
T. Hall: Yeah, they lost a brush truck in the fires. And so that was much needed funds for them to kind of replenish all that they’d lost and spent throughout the fires, and so that was one thing they brought up, they were like: God, this is really going to help us out a lot.
C. Hall: Yeah, and they’re – I mean they really are generational. There’s grandsons fighting along with their gra – fighting fires along with their grandfathers, and you know, the grandmothers run the business side of the department. It’s a great group of people. So, and they all came out to the benefit as well, on September 11th, and really enjoyed themselves. Of course, all the fire fighters, anybody that lost anything, they came and they ate and drank for free, and the generosity of those donating food and wine, Ron Yates, that whole crew, they just… everybody was super generous. So…
KUT News: And then the other photo is of…?
C. Hall: The other photo is actually one that our neighbor Vic Oraho took with his phone when he realized the irony of the burn ban signs that had been placed for months all along Highway 71 and the dry crispy grass. And you see the sign that says burn ban in effect, Pedernales Fire Department. And yet, behind it is a blaze. And Taylor is actually in the photo holding one of the fire hoses trying to put fires along the tree line. But yeah, the burn ban in effect sign is quite poignant with the flames all around.
T. Hall: And we actually got another photo later, it wasn’t quite as good of a photo, so we couldn’t really make the posters and so forth with it, but when the fire was actually burning under the sign, and so it was just such a funny moment. We were standing there, took the picture of it, and just couldn’t believe it.
KUT News: Anything else that you’d like to say?
C. Hall: I think that’s it.
KUT News: Thank you so much.