Deputy Greg Lawson
On February 21, 2012 Greg Lawson, who is a deputy for the Travis County Sheriff’s Office, met with KUT News to share his experience during the Central Texas wildfires.
KUT News: When I was talking to everybody in the Steiner Ranch area, there were so many people who were just gone for the day, because it was a holiday.
KUT News: And, so a lot of their –
Lawson: Was it a holiday?
KUT News: It was Labor Day weekend.
Lawson: Was it? Okay.
KUT News: Yeah. Start from the top, what did you do that morning?
Lawson: That morning, my wife and I were out, I don’t recall what we were doing but we were out and I think we went out to breakfast and maybe went shopping; I had to be at work at three. I remember on our way back, I told her, I said, you see these winds, all it’s going to take is one cigarette butt. All it’s going to take is one spark and all of this is going to go and you know, we just talked about it a little bit and I didn’t realize how correct I was going to be because once I got home, I changed, got in my car, I was in my car for, I don’t know, 10 to 15 minutes when the first call came out. And, the fire apparently originated across the street, across Highway 620 on Mansfield Drive and, you know, it just took a matter of seconds for it to hop across 620 and get into the Steiner Ranch, you know, Proper area.
KUT News: What happened when you got that first call?
Lawson: Well, I, because I live in Georgetown, I was coming out of Georgetown when that was happening. There was a lot of deputies, we had our day shift that was still on, they are on until four. The evening shift comes on at three, so we have an hour overlap so that was a good thing that we were able to respond with so many officers at that particular time. I responded straight to Steiner Ranch because that is my district; I patrol that particular district and I responded straight to what the main thread of the fire was, which was down McNelly Street and Varner Court and Medina River Way.
KUT News: Where is that within the community?
Lawson: It’s going to be toward the Northwest of it. There is a wooded area between those particular streets and FM 620 or Ranch Road 620, depending on which map you look at. It’s named several different things, so.
KUT News: What was the first call for, I mean, that you responded for, what was it for?
Lawson: It was a wild land fire. They had dispatched the different fire control districts and at the same time, there was some issues up off of Hamilton Pool so the fire department was very busy at, they were trying to decide who was going, what assets were going where.
KUT News: Right. So, what was your responsibility over at that one call?
Lawson: When I first got there, our main job was to come in for safety but it was quickly evident that we needed to get people out of there if there was anyone in that area, they needed to leave because, as you look at it now, if you look across 620 and all the charred trees and everything, it doesn’t seem like it’s that big of an area. However, when it’s on fire, it looks huge. So, it’s a different perspective. So, once the fire had jumped, it was interesting to watch it because it kind of left the valley unburned and the embers came across the valley and started the hill on the other side behind McNelly and Varner Court and Medina River Way and caught that whole ridge there on fire and it started working its way up toward the houses. So, at that point, the fire apparatus that was there, you know, set up the best they could and had to make the call of okay, you know, which houses are we going to save because we are not going to be able to save them all.
KUT News: Wow. Um, so, when did you decide or when did you get the call or directive to start moving people out of their homes?
Lawson: Well, once we got there, it was pretty evident, everybody needed to go. Just the pace of the fire and the speed of the fire coming up the hill and starting to take out fences and starting to take out telephone poles, power poles, that sort of thing. It was only a matter of time because the most disturbing part about it was the winds. As you stood there, there was ash just scattered everywhere and so.
KUT News: Were you ever afraid?
Lawson: No. I felt really bad because I knew that there were a lot of pets in that area. Human beings are at work and this particular area does not have as many people that stay back, a lot of them, you know, both husband and wife go to work, the kids are in school and like you said, the holiday, a lot of people had left. So, I wasn’t really that concerned about the people making a good decision on whether they needed to stay and try to defend their home or whether they were going to follow our directives and leave. The thing that was disturbing was the amount of animals that were all in that area.
KUT News: So, you started going, I guess, knocking on people’s doors. How did you get them out?
Lawson: A decision was made from our command post that we needed to do an audio type announcement on our public address system that we have on our cars.
KUT News: Oh, okay, so through your loudspeaker sort of thing.
KUT News: What time was this? At that time, you weren’t even –
Lawson: Yeah, time was incomprehensible at this point. I don’t know what time it was. It was still light. But that’s what we started to do from the command post, they assigned each officer an area and that officer was to patrol that area and try to keep cars out, make your announcements and it soon got to the point, once the houses were really in danger, we made the call ourselves to go ahead and start going door-to-door and we told our command post that we were going to go ahead and do that.
KUT News: What did your announcement sound like? Like, you know, if I were the person in the neighborhood?
Lawson: It would be, “There is a fire on Medina River Way. Get your family, your pets and leave the area. There is a fire on Medina River Way.”
KUT News: So you just repeated that over and over?
KUT News: Scary.
Lawson: And, you know, use your horn, use your siren a little bit.
KUT News: Did you see people responding to it, were they coming out?
Lawson: Yes, but like I said or like you said, it’s a holiday, there is a lot of people that were already gone and yes, but there were, let’s say, one out of every six houses or so, people were coming out, looking and a lot of people had already realized something was happening because of the smoke in the area, it was pretty thick.
KUT News: What did it look like? The smoke and all, I mean when you arrived in that area?
Lawson: Um, down in that particular area, there was a lot of ash in the air. There was a lot of big, you know, dried burnt leaves that were basically blowing and I would say the winds were 30 miles per hour and gusting.
KUT News: They probably were, I know they were really high that weekend. I know it was like snowing ash because –
Lawson: It was, yes.
KUT News: Well, you know, that voice is not really my voice. I was sick, you know, from being out there for so long, you know, and reporting that the whole weekend, I was –
Lawson: I was going to ask you if that was your voice. Is that you?
KUT News: It was, yeah, but that’s how sick I was.
KUT News: You know, it really just runned me down and I was just like, you know, horsing it all the way through. But that’s how you could tell how smoky and how heavy the air was in that area.
KUT News: Amazing. So, you went around, just driving around the neighborhoods making that announcement?
Lawson: My job was the responsibility of Medina River Way, McNelly and I still don’t know whether I am pronouncing that correctly, McNelly –
KUT News: We’ll figure it out.
Lawson: Varner Court and there was another street that connects McNelly and Medina River Way and I forget what it’s called, but that area was basically, all of those homes were on the Greenbelt, so behind the houses on the Greenbelt, obviously, that is where the fire was. So, I just drove McNelly, Varner Court and Medina River Way back and forth, trying to make sure people were out of there. One of my partners, he started going door-to-door over on Medina River Way and I started over on McNelly and Varner Court. Somewhere along there, which was kind of, I understood why they did it, but it’s still disturbing, the firefighters packed up and moved. They had to make the call on where they were going to consolidate their resources and they were, like I said, they were spread very thin and so they pulled off Varner Court; I knew Varner Court was gone. I had seen them doing some things that made a lot of sense and to watch the fire; the fire was jumping from the woods in the wooded area into a lot of the rain gutters of people’s homes. People hadn’t cleaned their rain gutters and that would be the first thing that caught on fire on their houses, their rain gutters caught on fire because they were filled with dried leaves. So, when I saw that, there was an aluminum ladder leaning up against one of the houses over there and I took the aluminum ladder and I started knocking the gutters off the houses.
KUT News: Did that help?
Lawson: It did. Yeah, the houses I got the gutters off of or got sprinklers going in the backyard, they were –
KUT News: How did you do that? How did you figure out, I mean, I don’t know if I was able to compose myself that much to find where the sprinkler system is, throw it out on the lawn, grab a ladder, throw, you know, what were you thinking?
Lawson: I was thinking I felt bad that, you know, the fire was, I mean, they had to make the call so they left that area and set up and saved some other houses over close to Medina River Way and in that area. I felt that a majority of the people that, it was my responsibility to get them out of there, had gotten out of there or they were adult enough to make their own call as far as how they were going to handle it. So, at that point, I felt that I could either relocate myself and start doing some other announcements and getting other areas evacuated or I could spend a little bit of time there and see if I could do some good and, as it worked out, that was, in my opinion, the correct decision.
KUT News: Did you go back and see whether some of those homes that you turned on sprinklers for and, you know, hit off gutters, did they make it?
Lawson: Yes, yeah.
KUT News: Wow.
Lawson: There was three that I was real concerned about that the gutters were on fire and they were threatened because of structures right beside them and, you know, you don’t think a regular yard lawn sprinkler is going to do much good, but it at least slows it down a little bit. It slows it down to where it can either burn itself out or maybe fire can get there.
KUT News: So, that means you just ran to the back of people’s homes and just turned on, you know, the water spouts.
Lawson: Yes. I forget the street, there was one that the house, actually, it was the family that was talking about their dogs and their cat. I took the sprinklers from both of their neighbors and pulled them into their yard and I couldn’t stay there, the fire was right on top of everything. I couldn’t stay there so I hung the lawn sprinklers into the trees and just turned them on so that they would spray into the trees and onto the fence.
KUT News: No wonder. Because the fence, when I was back there, had this sort of –
KUT News: Yes!
Lawson: Yeah, that’s what it was, yeah.
KUT News: Wow.
Lawson: And then I set their sprinkler on their back porch, on their bricks back there because it was nothing but leaves in the back. So, that house, there was another one on McNelly that their whole backyard just was burned up to the house and that was another sprinkler deal that seemed to work well.
KUT News: What were you thinking? How did you think, like, I don’t know if, I mean, you are much more qualified in this situation then I ever would be, but to me, I know, I wouldn’t know to just, let me turn on the sprinkler and put it on the porch. Like, what made you think of that decision?
Lawson: I was trying to get everything that would be immediately threatened wet and that’s all I was thinking. I didn’t know whether it would do any good or not, I was hoping it would. I wanted to do something before I left, I mean, it certainly didn’t hurt anything. Now, if you talk to fire, they might say that, you know, because I did that they were losing water pressure or something; I don’t know. They might be mad at me, I don’t know. But, I just felt like to do something as opposed to sitting in my car making announcements and doing nothing.
KUT News: Well, I mean, I think it saved a lot of people’s homes, like the family I spoke to, they were so, so grateful, you have no idea.
Lawson: Well, you know, it’s real strange to be in those situations because, you know, fire has their job, EMS has their job, law enforcement has their job and within each one of those you are assigned specific tasks. Sometimes you have to make a call to stop doing whatever task that you are told to do in order to do something that seems more pressing and may be against what you have been assigned. And, that’s the really hard thing when you’re in a situation like that and we’re in such a litigious society that do I keep this door into this house and let their pets, which could be a $2,000 dog, run away to save its life or do I not? And you think, well that’s a pretty easy answer, you kick the door, you let the dog go. Yeah, but what if the house doesn’t burn down? Who is responsible for the dog? Who is responsible for the door? Were you assigned to go kick doors in and save pets or were you assigned to sit in your car and make announcements? You put yourself out whenever you do things like that and in this particular case, everyone understood, I think, the gravity of the situation and there were no problems like that, but there is always that chance that you make that wrong call and you destroy somebody’s front door and you let their pets go and they never find them again and their house doesn’t get damaged and it’s like, why did you destroy my door and let my pets run away?
KUT News: Yeah. Did you have that debate within yourself while you were –
Lawson: Oh, yes! A little bit.
KUT News: Was it easy to make a decision on what to do?
Lawson: No. I wish I would have done it more on Medina River Way and then, I can’t remember that street, the one that ties in. There was a dog on Varner Court that the house was almost all the way down before one of the neighbors who had defied our evacuation orders kicked their back door in and got that dog out of there, but that house was fully involved when he did that. I know there was some others on Medina River Way that didn’t make it and it’s one of those things where, you know, you only have a certain amount of time and it’s overwhelming to decide, you know, what’s the next step. But, you just have to make a decision and go with it and hope that it works out for the best.
KUT News: You know, today I’m, at six p.m., I’m having somebody come in who <inaudible 19:33>
Lawson: Good for him. I didn’t say that and the Sheriff’s Office does not –
KUT News: Does not endorse that comment.
Lawson: No, no, no. Please don’t use that one.
KUT News: He, I guess, went around barricades, however, he grabbed his bike and started riding, I don’t know, his name is Andy Jones, and he started just riding around in the neighborhood and –
Lawson: I saw him. I know who he is, I saw him riding around a lot.
KUT News: Yeah. Texting –
Lawson: I think that’s who I saw; I remember a guy that was riding a bike and I kept seeing him –
KUT News: Yeah.
Lawson: He’d say, “Yeah I’m leaving –”
KUT News: ”I’m leaving, I’m gone, I’m gone.”
KUT News: But what he was doing, he was texting addresses out to somebody, the next person, I forget. I think it’s his neighbor and that neighbor was putting it up on Twitter and said: this house is gone, this house is fully enflamed or not.
KUT News: And the reason why I want to really, I get chills when I talk about him, because when I was out in Bastrop at the, like, volunteer center where all the evacuees were being sent, they were, you know, posting big, big rosters of which houses were gone by the firefighters. But they were coming out so slow and I spoke with one woman who, she is like, “My house,” you know, “I’m pretty sure it’s gone because the fire started on my street,” and I said – she goes, “And it was coming towards us and we were literally like drove through fire to get out of here.” I said, “Well yeah, it’s probably gone then.” I mean, “I don’t mean to be mean, but why are you still here, you know, if you know it’s already gone and waiting for this stuff to come out?” and she’s like, “I don’t know, I just have to know, I mean, there is a possibility that it could not be and –”
KUT News: ”And in order to take this next step, I need to know,” and that just really makes me sad because, you know, her pets were there, her possessions were there, the pictures, birth certificates, everything, you know, and she can’t move forward until she knows so she will just wait there and I thought that was so sad, but that’s what Andy Jones was doing for the Steiner Ranch community, which was letting people know and that was a difficult part. I mean, the news organizations were being, you know, I don’t want to say chastised, but chastised for not getting enough information out, you know. I think we were scrambling, we didn’t know what to do, you know, there is so many fires everywhere –
KUT News: And I feel like that was probably y’all’s position too, from an emergency perspective.
Lawson: Well, and another thing on our side is because we are the voice of an official position or official information that I say 12247 Varner Court is burned down and it’s not because it was 12278 or whatever it is –
KUT News: Right.
Lawson: And, you know, it’s very, very important that, from a governmental standpoint, from being a –
KUT News: Official.
Lawson: Incident command official standpoint that we get those addresses correct and we confirm that this is the correct address.
KUT News: Right, because there is lots of fallout that could happen from it, if it’s incorrect.
KUT News: Yeah. You said you put the sprinklers into that person’s home and the trees, right?
Lawson: I hung the lawn sprinklers in the trees, right.
KUT News: So, and then you also got her animals.
KUT News: How did you do that?
Lawson: Well, as much as her fence was on fire and, I’m sorry. As much as her fence was on fire and her trees and it was, her backyard, I felt like it was only a matter of time and then the embers were coming over her roof. I mean, wafting over her roof and I thought for sure her house was gone. So, I did some magic on her door and got her two, there were two dogs in there.
KUT News: Did you hear them howling, is that what it was?
Lawson: They were barking. And I imagine they were pretty disturbed by whatever it was that they were seeing and their perception of it; they had never seen that before. And, so I got those guys and put them in the back of my car and I saw the cat run upstairs and then it was on.
KUT News: So did you chase him upstairs?
Lawson: I know a little bit about cats so I didn’t chase him, I tried to, but he didn’t want to have anything to do with me. So, I cornered him back in the back of a bedroom, and there is a reason why there is a saying “a cornered cat” – yeah.
KUT News: Yeah.
Lawson: I wasn’t smart enough initially to pick up anything and throw it over him; I just reached and grabbed him and I don’t know what I was thinking but he did not like that and I had never had full feline teeth all the way in my hand before and, yeah, he lost it.
KUT News: Wow.
Lawson: And I promptly let go because he didn’t want me touching him and then I realized, “Hey, you know, there’s a blanket right here, you know, genius, get the blanket;” so I got the blanket and got it around him and carried him out in the blanket.
KUT News: Do you have the bite marks still?
Lawson: I don’t.
KUT News: Okay, good.
Lawson: After the plastic surgery and the – no. No, I actually healed fairly well.
KUT News: Good.
Lawson: And once I got him in the car he was my buddy, he was sitting in my lap, looking around and meowing and having a good time, kind of interesting being outside, I think.
KUT News: Yeah.
Lawson: And, I thought they might have another cat –
KUT News: They did.
Lawson: Yeah, so I just went ahead and opened up the front and back doors and left the home open and later, after everything kind of burned itself out, later that night, I went back and secured their house, but that was –
KUT News: Wow.
Lawson: Yeah, so I got to ride around until about midnight that night with, I had several other dogs and surprising enough, all the dogs that I had in there were getting along fine with the cat; I ended up having to put the cat in the back too and I looked like, you know –
KUT News: Happy family.
Lawson: The pet detective running around, you know, it was ridiculous.
KUT News: But, you know, but that’s the thing, that is why everybody considers you a hero over there is because you saved their pets. I mean, I have a sticker on my door that says my name is Sam and if an emergency ever happens, take me to Spicewood Animal Springs; this is my rabies number, blah, blah, blah, because, I mean lots of people have them on their window, because, you know, he is my son, you know –
Lawson: And most people don’t have those and, you know, if there is a sticker like that and your house is threatened, I am going to assume that you are an animal lover enough to where you are not going to be mad about me destroying your $700 front door in the case of them being in danger.
KUT News: Yeah.
Lawson: As I certainly wouldn’t.
KUT News: Right. So, how many dogs and cats did you have in the back? Well, you had one cat –
Lawson: I have no idea. I think there was five dogs and the cat.
KUT News: Wow. And they all went peacefully?
Lawson: Once they got in there, that was the really bizarre thing is, once they were all in there together, they didn’t fight. I could tell one of the dogs did not like the cat at all and kind of stayed away from it and they all kind of went to sleep and they were just kind of hanging out in the back and the cat got up in the back window.
KUT News: And hung out back there?
Lawson: Yeah. Needless to say, the people I work with thought that was real funny, me riding around with all the animals.
KUT News: How long did you have the animals with you?
Lawson: I got rid of, I shouldn’t say got rid of. I dropped the cat and the two dogs off with a family member in Cedar Park probably around midnight, I guess, maybe 11.
KUT News: Wow. Amazing. Did you ever go back and meet the family?
Lawson: I did.
KUT News: What did they say?
Lawson: Well, they just, you know, they were glad I went ahead and, I guess, took action on that.
KUT News: Why did you go out and meet the family?
Lawson: I was very concerned that, I mean, you know, paranoia. I was very concerned that possibly they were missing something out of their home or something because I left their doors open and I just wanted to make sure that they didn’t have anything to report. And, also, I wanted to make sure that they found their other cat because I knew that me leaving the door open, the other cat was going to take off and I didn’t know if he was one of those ones that would stick around or come back.
KUT News: I think it hid under the bed and just stayed there, to be honest. I mean, well, the house didn’t go so that was –
Lawson: Well, I know it was outside the next day. I don’t think they returned until the next day and it was a yellow cat, if I remember correctly, and it was outside because I was trying to get him back in the house and he didn’t –
KUT News: He didn’t go.
KUT News: Wow. What a day for you. Interesting. So, after you went around and started kicking doors open, rescuing some pets around here, throwing sprinkler systems everywhere, when did you decide, okay, it’s time to leave this area?
Lawson: Well, the fires had burned down to, I think, a manageable level for fire and at that point, we stayed over a little longer, but we went ahead and just were relieved and allowed to go home.
KUT News: How long was your shift that night?
Lawson: A little longer than normal; I don’t know.
KUT News: Time, I guess, was kind of –
KUT News: No sense of time, I guess, during that time.
Lawson: No. It, now, if I had a job to where I had to pay attention to time, I think I could have done it, but, in this case, it really wasn’t important.
KUT News: Did you move on to other communities and do the same thing that you were doing there or –
KUT News: So it was just that one area?
Lawson: Yeah, that was enough.
KUT News: It was your assigned area.
Lawson: And, you know, you ask me if I was scared and I said no and I don’t mean that in, I ain’t scared, you know. I mean it in the way that, what we had in Steiner was nothing compared to what they had in Bastrop. I mean, other than the people that actually lost their houses, I don’t think anybody could really even compare the two.
KUT News: Yeah.
Lawson: The way the terrain is at Steiner and the lack of a lot of plant life just because it is the hill country and a lot of rock, it didn’t have the amount of fuel that Bastrop County had and comparatively it’s, you know, it wasn’t anything compared to what they had to go through.
KUT News: Have you ever lived through wildfires like this in your life?
Lawson: I have not.
KUT News: What did you think about, I mean, what do you think about the whole situation in that Texas pretty much or Central Texas sort of went up in flames within a day or two on a weekend?
Lawson: You know, I have seen wildfires in New Mexico and in Utah, and it’s hard to describe or compare a 15-foot tall juniper to a 100-foot tall pine tree and when a 100-foot tall pine tree full of sap goes up, there is a huge difference compared to a 15-foot juniper. Not to say that what we had in Steiner wasn’t deadly, it was, but comparatively, we can handle that. We can deal with that if we could get Mother Nature to cooperate just a little bit and lower those winds some, you know, it would have been nothing. But, those winds, that’s what really did it; that’s what spread it so fast.
KUT News: What did you do in the days afterwards? So, after the fires went down, they looked like they had control over it, were you assigned back in that area the next day after you were relieved of your duty?
Lawson: No. The way that the instant command system was set up, they went ahead and assigned Steiner Ranch specific deputies to work just that, just Steiner Ranch. There is only two ways in and out of Steiner Ranch, you know, Steiner Ranch Boulevard and Quinlan Park, so they closed off both of those streets, nobody could get in and they had four or five deputies that did nothing but just roam around in Steiner for a couple of days, making sure that there wasn’t any looting going on or making sure that there were a lot of kids that would go down the trails and want to go look at the fire and there was a lot of adults that were doing the same thing.
KUT News: Yeah.
Lawson: And, so they did that and for the next couple of days, my responsibility then was back to patrol district and I was taking calls and all of the other communities other than Steiner. So, they had specific people.
KUT News: Interesting.
Lawson: I think on the last day, I was assigned to the Steiner area when we then opened up the roads and allowed people to start coming back in.
KUT News: Interesting. I must have seen you then. And you probably looked at me like this: “You’re now allowed to go there,” because, you know, when they reopened, I drove in and, I drove into Kate Stein’s area and sort of walked around and there were deputies there looking at you just like, you can walk that way, but once you pass this one, “We’ll attack you!”
Lawson: I think by that time we were so, you know, so tired of people trying to get in, it was kind of like, you know, everything was safe at that point, they just needed to make that call; it’s another one of those instant command things where, do we let people back in and what if the winds come back up and we got a fire again and then we are going to have to get all these people out and that is what they were really concerned about.
KUT News: Wow. Did you have any energy to do another evacuation?
Lawson: Yeah, that wouldn’t have been any fun.
KUT News: Yeah. Interesting.
Lawson: There were a lot of, I can’t remember the number of houses, 26 houses?
KUT News: I don’t remember either. It wasn’t, I’m not sure if it was 26. It wasn’t that many.
Lawson: It was in the 20’s, I think.
KUT News: Right.
Lawson: And the amount of support that they got from the community was more overwhelming then trying to evacuate the area.
KUT News: Wow.
Lawson: There were so many organizations and so many people bringing so much food and water and they, honestly and I appreciate what they were doing, they were more of a problem for traffic control and things then the fire was.
KUT News: Yeah, because there was so many more people wanting to get in at that time.
Lawson: Right. And it was wonderful to see this outpouring, but you know – 26 families affected or whatever it was and we have 42 organizations wanting to help.
KUT News: Right. Well, they actually –
Lawson: It was great. It was great, it was just all of the sudden we had all these people we are having to deal with who are trying to bring in food and we are going, “Hey, wait, if you don’t live here, you don’t come in here and,” you know. But, “We are bringing food, we are bringing water,” “Well, bring it to incident command because you can’t come in here.”
KUT News: Right.
Lawson: And, here would come another truck and then another truck and then the contractors come in wanting to pass out business cards.
KUT News: Insurance agents wanting to do reviews.
Lawson: And, you know, everybody was very professional. It was kind of interesting. I did not see any real explosion of emotion from anybody out there.
KUT News: Right.
Lawson: You know, and I’m sure some people who just lost their house would find it insulting that somebody is trying to get some money from them, but they didn’t look at it that way. It was like, “No, I’m not going to think about that right now. I have other things I need to do.”
KUT News: Right. “Leave your business card; if I want to, I’ll call you later.”
KUT News: Interesting. Wow. So, is there anything that you would have done different, you think?
KUT News: I don’t know, while you were out there or anything, I mean, it sounds like the debate was whether do I keep –
Lawson: I would have destroyed more doors because I know there was a couple of people who lost pets on that street that I don’t remember the road.
KUT News: Corner Street.
Lawson: By Medina River Way. Yeah, it wiped out that whole street and I know there was pets in, at least, two of those houses and, yeah, I would have definitely done it because it is so bizarre. Fire set up and was spraying water over the houses into the Greenbelt, and those houses were, you know, slowly catching on fire and slowly being lost. And I don’t remember seeing any of their front doors open or any of their garage doors open or anything like that and I think I would have done that. I think I would have just gone and kicked all the doors –
KUT News: Wait. Does that mean that you can really kick a door, like, karate kick a door, like we see in the movies?
Lawson: Well –
KUT News: Do you know how to do that?
Lawson: I would like to go ahead and tell you that, yes I can.
KUT News: Wow.
Lawson: However, I can’t.
KUT News: Laughs.
Lawson: Yeah, they have steel doors over there and I actually tried to do that on the first steel door and I launched myself off of the porch when I did it. So, yes, I have a sledgehammer that takes care of that very well.
KUT News: We’ll just “x” that part out of the interview and we’ll just say that you kicked them all in.
Lawson: Yeah, that would be great.
KUT News: Wow, well that’s great. I guess, last thing, moving forward, you know, looking, sort of, on hindsight on these fires here, what should, I guess, the community, Austin, Travis County, all of us, I guess, should learn and take away from what happened that weekend?
Lawson: I think it’s really important that you clean your gutters. If there is one thing people can do to their house that I saw on that day was to clean your gutters. I feel like some old man, you know, “Hey, you need to clean your gutters, boy.”
KUT News: Yeah.
Lawson: When you watch a fire hop from house to house and it’s hopping from gutter to gutter, it doesn’t take a genius to figure out what’s going on because it’s not the roof that’s catching on fire, it’s the leaves. I think that’s it’s very important if you’re not going to clean your gutters every year, that you invest in a product that covers that gutter, still allows that gutter to work, but keeps the leaves out. I know some products, the names of products, but I won’t use them here, I don’t know if I should because I’m not saying that’s going to keep your house from burning down. I’m saying that it certainly would be helpful.
KUT News: Wow. I’ve never seen a house burn, like, you know, from start or ignite.
Lawson: Right. I think that it’s very important that people keep their water hoses in their backyard and accessible and in good condition with some maybe good sprinklers. Some of them had the sprayers on them, so I just locked the sprayer open and would hang it from the tree. It worked. I mean, you saw the evidence of the way that stuff burned, even a sprinkler can help, at least, slow it down a little bit. Third, I think you need to put some signs on your house. If you want me to save your pet and do damage to your house and possibly have nothing happen to your house, you need to put some sort of sign on there saying I can do that because that’s a real issue because when your chain of command doesn’t tell you, “Okay, go and knock in the doors and save them,” and you take it upon yourself to do that, the individual person is putting themselves at risk of, you know, liability on that. And I think it’s really important that neighbors have neighbors’ phone numbers so that you can call each other, because most of the neighbors, the way our society, I think, has changed going from no TV’s to three channels to unlimited channels, most people are spending their time – and also air conditioning – most people are spending their time inside their house with their air conditioning and with their TV or their computer, entertaining themselves in the evening, and they don’t know their neighbors. I think that’s real important to, at least, have contact numbers so if something does happen, you know, you can either get in touch with them, do you want me to do something or tell them what’s happening.
KUT News: Yeah.
Lawson: So, gutters, sprinklers and hoses, pet signs, contact numbers.
KUT News: Wow. Amazing. Do you consider yourself to be a hero?
Lawson: No. You know, the people that saved the houses out there that day were the firefighters and, you know, there were a lot of people that were doing a lot of things out there that day and I don’t think, most people don’t know what they are going to do until they are faced with it and they think, well I’m not going to do that, well, I don’t know. I think a lot of people would.
KUT News: Well, when you’re put in a situation, you can only make that decision then.
Lawson: I’ve seen some people freeze up before, but I think most people can work the problem and say the fire is going to be here in 30 seconds, I have 15 seconds to do something. What do I want to do?
KUT News: Yeah.
Lawson: I’ll kick the door, try to get the dog out and go.
KUT News: Well, I want to say thank you for everything that you’ve done, because when I was out there talking to people, your name came up a lot and they were so grateful, they cried about it several times and just hearing your name when I was talking to them, I was like oh my God, <inaudible 44:34> this person, you know, you did lots of things for everyone when everyone was so frantic, you know, so confused and emotions were going everywhere so I will say thank you for what you did and on behalf of everybody else who did not say so because I think what you did was very courageous and just nice. There aren’t very many nice people sometimes.
Lawson: I try to be.
KUT News: Awesome.
Lawson: Thank you.
KUT News: Well, just to close out, let me have you say one more time, my name is –
Lawson: My name is Greg Lawson. I work for the Travis County Sheriff’s Department. I’m a deputy on the patrol division.
KUT News: How long have you been with them?
Lawson: Way too long.