On April 16, 2012, Cynthia Acosta spoke with KUT News about her experience during the 2011 Central Texas wildfires.
Acosta: Well we’ve been planning our wedding for two years, we were engaged for a long time. And we selected September fourth, 2011 as our wedding date. And we started preparations for the wedding the year before. So, in September of 2010, we visited Star Hill Ranch, and met with Adam, the owner at Star Hill, and fell in love with the location. It’s a very unique Austin wedding venue. Adam takes historic buildings from all over Texas and transports them to his ranch and he restores them. So, there’s this awesome little saloon that was the original Bee Caves post office, and they have a wedding chapel that looks just like the Kill Bill wedding chapel, which I know sounds kind of funny, but I just thought that was really interesting and a cool place to get married. So we met with him in September, and he was so laid back and welcoming that I knew we had to have it.
So I booked the venue September 2010. A year before the wedding, in advance, we’re paid for, we’re ready to go. So leading up to the summer, it’s getting hotter and hotter, and it’s like the hottest summer on record, and so it’s like 100 degree weather and we’re slowly losing it, so what would have been an outdoor wedding, now we get to take advantage of the awesome Kill Bill chapel, because it has fans and it’s cool. So, a couple months before the wedding, there’s wildfires all around the different ranches, or fires around the different ranches. It’s getting dangerous and we’re meeting with Adam, and he’s such a nice man that we talked to him every month or so, you know, he said that the ranch was fine and they cleared a bunch of brush around the ranch to protect it, in case fires started.
So, I think it was maybe two weeks or so, right before the wedding when, I was at work, I work for the state of Texas retirement system, and we received an email that said “Hey, any of your employees that live in certain areas, there’s fires. Let them know that they want to go home and protect their property or just let them know that there’s fires so they need to take care, if they need to leave, they need to take care of it. And I was like: OH, that sounds really close to Star Hill Ranch.” So me and my fellow co-workers pull it up on the website, and we’re tracking the fire, and it’s getting closer and closer and closer to the ranch. So I’m freaking out. You know: Of course my wedding venue is going to burn down. Two weeks before we get married, I knew something was going to go wrong! And then I had to check myself, there’s fires and it’s dangerous and you know, put it into perspective.
So we’re following the fires and I finally get a hold of Adam the next morning. And he said it was fine, he was actually out of town. He was so used to there being files, now that I think of it, he was probably just acting calm to keep me calm, and keep me from freaking out. So, he’s like: everything’s fine. Don’t worry about the ranch, remember we cleared the brush, we’ll be fine for the wedding. And it was, so, we show up, they have the wedding, and we’re getting married around six. They have a bride’s house available on site. So I was there with some friends, getting my hair and my makeup done and my hair done. And I had a wedding coordinator take care of all of the stressful stuff on the day of the wedding. So she comes up to me a couple hours before the wedding as I was putting my wedding dress on and she said: “oh, you might want to hold off for a second. No big deal, we’re just going to delay the start of the wedding. There’s some sort of traffic or something, something’s going.. I don’t know but you’re guests are having trouble getting here so, we’re just going to hold off.” And I was like: Ok, that’s perfectly fine. I had all my girlfriends around me and we had wine and we were having fun and I was getting really nervous. And anyway, so it was kind of like, yeah, buy me an hour and yeah, I’ll take an hour.
So, we waited, and it was really windy. It was SUPER windy on that day. And I didn’t anticipate the wind, which is another reason we were like: Just move it inside! We kind of tried to see if we could put it outside, keep the wedding outside, since it was a cooler day, but the wind was just crazy. So I was looking out the window and I saw my guests slowly arrive, and we have the wedding, and everything was awesome. And I didn’t notice until the reception that some of my family that was supposed to drive in from, was coming in from Dallas wasn’t there. And of course, I was really upset at my cousin, because she promised she’d be there for my wedding and how rude was that? And it’s a Sunday, a Memorial Day weekend, so how could she not make it? I didn’t let it ruin my day.
So we’re at the reception, and the place that we held the reception at Star Hill Ranch was an old school house. So it had this awesome balcony terrace thing that overlooked the hill country, and it was so beautiful and the sun was setting. We were just having a blast with my family, when one of my husband’s co-workers showed him off in the distance, like, “Do you see – do you see that smoke?” And we didn’t know what it was and he explained to Oliver that that smoke is the fires, like everything is on fire around here, did you guys not know that? And Oliver was like, “Well of course not, we’re busy getting married!” And he’s like – Ryan is a guitar teacher, he teaches lessons and I guess, his boss, they would teach out of his house and his house is burning, he’s losing everything, his house is on fire. And that’s what that smoke is. And Oliver didn’t share any of this with me the night of the wedding. So we just had a blast and you know, we drove home and I had no idea that anything had happened.
And we honeymooned in Spain, so we flew to Barcelona I think the next morning so we got to the hotel, stayed at the Driscoll, like midnight, and had a six am flight to New York the next morning. So we hopped on a plane, flew to New York and landed in New York, and we’re waiting for the connecting flight to Barcelona, and we’re watching CNN, and that’s when it hit me. That’s when I realized. Oh my gosh, there was all these fires and were showing on CNN. Of course, Travis and Bastrop counties and reporting on the deaths and that the fires were still raging and it was so horrible, because at that moment we realized how close we were. That’s why my cousin couldn’t get through because – I later found out that the sheriffs were diverting people from going towards the ranch and sending them home.
And we just felt so far away from home and it just kept getting bigger and scarier and you know we’re catching a flight, and then I started thinking about my house. Because we live in central Austin, which is far from the fires, but when they reported it on the news, it just sounds like this big huge scary thing. They were reporting it even in Barcelona, we were watching it on the news and they were reporting on the wildfires and, you know the deaths and how dangerous it was and how many people were just losing everything. And it’s hard, because now that it’s been almost a year since we’ve been married, whenever I think about my wedding day, I think about the hottest summer we’ve ever had in Texas, and I think about, that’s when the fires started and how destructive it was. So it’s kind of a weird memory to have, in association with a very happy moment. It was like the start of a natural disaster. And it was just kind of horrible, and it kind of set the tone, because when we got home the day of our wedding day, because of the winds that kind of helped the fire, our neighbors tree, huge mature tree just fell down in our yard and almost hit our house and it was just like: What? Did we make a mistake? Should we not have gotten married? It’s like the universe is telling us: this is a bad move, a big bad move! So that’s kind of what was my experience in the wildfires. I didn’t know it, when I was living it, but I later realized.
KUT News: Well, Cynthia, love prevailed. Didn’t it? Everybody conspired for you all not to know.
Acosta: Yeah, not to know.
KUT News: Not to know, because the fires were going when you were getting married. I mean before you were getting married and then, as you were getting married, it was all around, I’m sure.
Acosta: Yeah, it’s true. I mean, yeah and that’s the awesome part. You know, I always joke that it was such a horrible experience planning a wedding and it was so stressful, but that’s why we had a wedding coordinator and I had a bridesmaid that was- her soul job was just to keep my mom away from me and kind of keep me happy. And it all worked, I didn’t realize how good of a job they did until you know, the next day.
KUT News: Do you know how many people knew at your wedding that all this was happening? Did you find out?
Acosta: I don’t most of my family is from El Paso, so they kind of just drove in and didn’t know. I suspected that all of our Austin friends that were there knew, like Ryan who knew that his boss’s house was on fire. But no, I don’t.
KUT News: Because it – everybody had – they were probably texting and Facebooking and all that, don’t you think before your wedding?
Acosta: Yeah, and especially because most of them were stuck in traffic, because it just kind of slowed down so, and the ranch is kind of, you know you go on this long windy road and it’s off Hamilton Pool Road where it’s all ranch roads, and you kind of just have to look for the windmill and that’s where it tells you to turn. So, yeah, I think they were all kind of just like: what’s going on?
KUT News: So they were texting whom? I wonder.
Acosta: Probably each other, cause I know I didn’t have my cell phone at all. And then we flew to Barcelona, so my cell phone was out of commission for like two weeks. I don’t know how much Oliver knew before the wedding, cause we were kept separate, but he knew how stressed I was so he wasn’t going to ruin that day.
KUT News: That’s right. It was going to be calm. For Oliver, it’d be interesting to know how much he knew before he walked down the aisle. Or watched you walk down the aisle.
Acosta: Yeah, I think, after we had talked about it and we were in New York, because he didn’t share the story that Ryan had told him until we were sitting in the New York airport. Watching it on CNN, and he was like: Oh, that’s right, Ryan was talking to me about the fires and, so I don’t think he knew before then, I think kind of that story is what, and you just kind of put it away like: oh, that looks really horrible but it’s the most important evening of my life and so he just kind of filed it away somewhere, and it just, he was just like: OH, oh my gosh. That’s what he was talking about.
KUT News: So he didn’t hear that until the reception.
Acosta: Until the reception, yeah.
KUT News: How nice is that?
Acosta: Very nice.
KUT News: Everybody was taking care of you all.
Acosta: Yeah, and especially because everybody who was close to us knew that you know, there were so many fires around the ranch and we were worried about it and so yeah, they did. They did a really good job.
KUT News: Isn’t that sweet?
Acosta: That’s super sweet. Yeah, we have awesome friends and family who just – know.
KUT News: Yeah. Nobody has your story, your wedding story.
Acosta: Nobody. I know. Yeah, I always tell people we picked the best summer to have a September wedding. Who would have thought that September. It would still be so hot, that’s the day the fire started and, it was so funny because it was like this domino effect. We got married, there was a fire, the tree fell down in the front yard, no one told us about that. My parents happened to be staying at our house. They got the neighbors insurance company took care of it, they drived it away. We had no idea until we drove home and I was like: ah, the neighbors’ house looks really different, what’s missing? Because it was in their front yard. So yeah, everyone was just like this little cocoon of ignorance, just let them enjoy their wedding, enjoy their honeymoon and..
KUT News: So how did you – did you walk into, was it JFK? And saw the monitors? Or you were sitting and waiting for your connecting flight, and saw the monitors?
Acosta: Yeah, we were sitting and waiting, we had landed and we had some lunch at the airport and then walked off to sit and wait for our flight. And, you know it’s this huge little gate area – or gate area and there was all these TV monitors and they were tuned to CNN. And it caught my attention, I love watching news. And it caught my attention and I was just like looking at it and it says Texas, and we were like: oh cool we’re in New York and we’re watching Texas on the news and I was like: it says Bastrop, it says Austin – Oh my gosh!
And it just kept going and going and they were not cutting away from it. I’m used to like little shorts. It was like the entire news program. I remember hearing a story about they were reporting on all the people who had lost their homes and the thousands of families that were affected. And I think there were – the thing that kind of struck me was that they were reporting on a mother and a newborn I think that had died in the fire. It was just horrible and that’s when I realized: oh my gosh, you know. I’ve never felt so far away from home. I was so excited for this trip, but it just felt like: we should be here. We need to see it for ourselves and, they kept saying Austin and Austin and Austin. And really it wasn’t close to the city but it was scary and I just kind of – Mom, is the house OK? I just need you to give me – put it into perspective for me and give me a reality check. So I know it’s not close to home but –
KUT News: So you were hearing back and forth in the airport and then when you got to Barcelona?
Acosta: Our hotel in Barcelona had an awesome TV package, and we were able to access like CNN International or whatever they call it on their satellite. And they were reporting on the fires, and that’s when it was even scarier, because I’m like: we’re all the way in Spain. And they’re reporting on, not only the US, but Texas, and Austin. You know, it was really scary. Just kind of keeping up with it, and on Facebook too, we were checking our Facebook and just seeing our random posts and stuff. That’s how we kept up with it. It’s pretty scary.
KUT News: But I’m sure you had a great time, didn’t you?
Acosta: Oh yeah, it was awesome. I mean, just getting used to the time difference, we’d watch TV and just kind of watch it and then just go out and have an awesome day. On our honeymoon, which is, it’s even weirder, because you know it’s, like, happiest day and this awesome honeymoon and this reality check and constant worrying and –
KUT News: Did you talk to the owner of the venue, of Star Hill?
Acosta: No, well I spoke to him I think in October of just kind of finishing stuff up, but the venue’s fine, the venue is still there, and they’re safe and Adam, he’s such a cool guy, he’s just so calm and he’s just like, “Oh, we’re fine and there’s been a million fires and small fires and we’ve protected the ranch and we’ve done everything we need to, so we’re ok.” My wedding coordinator actually got in contact with her, and I think she works for Star Hill now and she’s kind of their on-site coordinator.
KUT News: Because she did such a great job!
Acosta: Yeah, she did an awesome job of keeping me calm. And I still remember her, I was in the bride’s house and there was like this long room and I was in the bedroom putting my dress on and seeing her walk up to me, and I’m like: here it comes. This is like the one disaster – like every wedding has their horrible scary story and here’s mine. And she’s just like: Cynthia, no biggie, I just want to let you know that we’re going to delay it for like a little – I want to make sure all your guests are here and they have a chance to get here, cause there’s some traffic. And I was just like: Oh, ok. Cool.
KUT News: Boy, she just held it all together didn’t she?
Acosta: She did, kept it all together.
KUT News: Road block! You know, luckily you all – everybody – most everybody got there.
Acosta: Yeah, luckily. Yeah, it’s a good thing we selected the time when we did. And kind of let everybody know, it’s kind of far so you want to make sure you get there early. It’s a long drive so give yourselves some time. Yeah, because if they – even if we had started it at like seven or an hour later, it would have made a big difference.
KUT News: Probably so.
Acosta: Yeah, it could have totally ruined it.
KUT News: And, totally true. It’s out in the middle of nowhere; you have to find the windmill and take the turn, so let’s delay and make sure your guests get here.
Acosta: It’s true.
KUT News: Is there anything else you’d like to say? How’s married life? Happy anniversary, almost.
Acosta: Almost, well the funny thing is, I was saying how it was like natural disaster after natural disaster. The wildfire, and then the tree fell and almost hit the house. And everybody was like: you didn’t know the tree fell? And literally, we had been back from our honeymoon a week, and my husband was parking his truck in a garage and was driving too quickly and crashed through our garage and left this huge hole on the side of the street.
And at that moment, I was like: that’s it! That’s the third thing! There was the fire and there was the tree and then you just like crashed through the garage, and I can see my garage from the street and, what’s going on?! And that’s when I knew it was just cursed. (laughs) For the month, our wedding was cursed and our marriage, and what are we going to do? Oh my gosh, and I was just having that freak-out moment. It was like cold feet, but I had already been married for three weeks at this point. And I was like: What did I do? What is the universe trying to tell me? Why did I do this? But, yeah, Oliver said it was his way of testing our wedding vows right at the beginning. So, I was sure.
KUT News: That’s right.
Acosta: Yeah, he was like, we got it out of the way. And the cool part was, because we were newlyweds, the adjuster and the person who did the work on the house were really nice and worked with us and kind of had Oliver’s back because they knew he was in the dog house after crashing through the garage, being married three weeks right home from our wedding. So, yeah. But we’re good, we’re fine. And it’s true we got the first test out of the way. Three weeks into it and now we’re good. I’m just hoping that September isn’t a cursed month for us forever.
KUT News: You may just have a funky anniversary. Every year!
Acosta: It’s just like an explosion or something. It’s what I have to look forward to.
KUT News: Well I’m glad it’s going so well now.
Acosta: Yes, it’s all calmed down after…
KUT News: A beautiful wedding. A beautiful honeymoon. My goodness! And that cousin wanted to get there but just couldn’t!
Acosta: Yeah, so I’ve forgiven her.
KUT News: You’ve got to.
Acosta: I had to. Yeah. It wasn’t her fault.
KUT News: Road block: excused absence.
Acosta: Yeah. It’s like, you better not be lying and using this to your advantage, that’d be so horrible. Just like: No, I was there, I tried.
KUT News: Well, what a great story. I’m glad that no one was harmed in trying to get to you and after the wedding, I guess everybody was able to get back ok?
Acosta: Yeah. I mean, we drove to downtown easily.
KUT News: No road blocks?
Acosta: No road blocks, I didn’t see any road blocks.
KUT News: Well, wonderful, anything else you’d like to share?
Acosta: Nope, that’s all.
KUT News: Thank you so much.
Acosta: Thank you.