On June 30, Jennifer, Mark, and Oliver Gwin spoke with KUT News about their experiences during the Central Texas wildfires.
Mark Gwin: Well, we’d seen the smoke for a while. I had actually been sleeping that day because I had done a river race, so I’d been on the river for 24 hours straight, so I was sleeping through the day and I knew that the fire had started as soon as the fire started because we received a page. With the fire department, when there’s a large – there’s multiple fire departments in Bastrop County. When there’s a fire that’s getting out of control beyond one fire department, you’ll get a page and a request for mutual aid. They requested mutual aid very quickly that day. So, I got a page. Mutual aid pages aren’t that uncommon, however, and I was exhausted and my shoulder was out. I didn’t think I’d do any good, so I just figured, “Well, my other firefighters will cover it. I’m going to relax.” So, we knew about it, but we didn’t do anything about it. I went back to sleep. Jennifer came and woke me up and said there’s a lot of smoke. Go ahead.
Jennifer Gwin: Well, actually, I’d been on the phone with the emergency room because his elbow was swollen and red and I was – I was just focused on him and what was going on with him. So, I’d been on the phone with the emergency room and the nurse’s line to decide if I was going to take him to the emergency room and thankfully he came downstairs and we walked outside and he said, “Jennifer, is that ash falling on our heads?” and I said, “Yes,” the sun was that like bright, kind of magenta through the smoke and that’s when he looked at me and said, “I think we need to go right now.”
KUT News: What time was that?
J. Gwin: Two?
M. Gwin: About 2, it was…
J. Gwin: Or 4? I think it started around…
Lincoln Gwin: It was scary.
M. Gwin: Yeah, I do know that I talked to my fire chief, you know, because all of 12 firefighters lost their homes that day and he talked about, you know, wanting to try and save people’s homes. He’s like, “It didn’t matter what happened with y’all.” That fire moved in two and a half hours from its point of origin over four miles and our house was gone. So, it was a very, very fast moving fire. We were really right in the line from the point of origin to the way the wind was pushing it and when I saw that ash falling down, it was – I mean, it was almost like snow, very fine little pieces, but if ash is coming, you know that embers aren’t far behind. With as dry as everything was, with the pine needle forest, you know, that’s how the fire moved so quickly is it just starts itself farther in front of itself because those embers are carried by the wind and it just starts a new fire and it starts a new fire, so it just keeps moving very aggressively with wind like that when it’s that dry.
J. Gwin: We had actually had two dead trees fall in our yard that day.
L. Gwin: When we were in front – when we were in our little tree house.
J. Gwin: That’s right. We saw those – we were going to go get that lemonade and two different trees just fell right in front of us, it was so windy…
Oliver Gwin: It was really windy.
J. Gwin: And they were already dead from the drought.
KUT News: So, that – if I do my math right, that’s about 35 miles an hour. Is that right? It took it two and a half hours…
M. Gwin: No, it’s about a little over two miles an hour because it was…
KUT News: Okay.
M. Gwin: It was about four miles in two and a half hours, so – but that’s – that’s very fast for a fire. I mean, it doesn’t sound fast to us in a world of where we’re used to, you know, traveling at 60 or 70 miles an hour.
KUT News: Boys, are you – would you like to tell us what you know about the fire? When did you find out there was a fire nearby?
J. Gwin: Do you remember that day, Oliver?
O. Gwin: Mm-hm. Aunt Jen and Uncle John told us that there was a fire.
J. Gwin: That’s right. Uncle John called us and he was wondering if we knew about the fire and they had gone in the funny car. Remember, they had drove their funny car down to see what was going on.
O. Gwin: Mm-hm.
KUT News: So, did you get on the phone with your aunt and uncle? Did your mom tell you?
J. Gwin: Aunt Jen and Uncle John are our neighbors. They also lost their home in the fire.
KUT News: What good neighbors. They gave you a call?
J. Gwin: Mm-hm.
KUT News: So what did y’all do?
J. Gwin: Do you remember what happened when we decided to leave – we decided to leave the house?
O. Gwin: It was scary – it was scary and sad.
KUT News: Was it? I bet it was.
J. Gwin: Do you remember where we went?
O. Gwin: Forest went to Susan’s and me and Linky went to BB and JJ’s.
J. Gwin: Do you remember where we went right as the fire was happening when we drove down to the gas station?
O. Gwin: Yes, and we saw the fire.
J. Gwin: Do you remember seeing the fire for the first time?
O. Gwin: No.
J. Gwin: You don’t?
O. Gwin: We stopped at the gas station.
KUT News: Lincoln, did you see the fire? Yeah, at the gas station? What did it look like?
J. Gwin: Do you remember what the fire looked like?
L. Gwin: Yeah.
J. Gwin: What was it like?
L. Gwin: Orangeish and – and – and a little bit blueish to me inside.
KUT News: I think that means it’s really hot, the blue.
M. Gwin: Mm-hm. Do you remember what the smoke looked like or what it smelled like?
L. Gwin: It smelled like coffee was getting burned.
KUT News: Is that right?
L. Gwin: Mm-hm.
M. Gwin: It smelled like coffee was being burned?
KUT News: Okay, I think that’s a great description.
M. Gwin: Lincoln. Lincoln, sit still please.
KUT News: So what was so scary about it?
L. Gwin: We thought – we thought everything that – our blankies, they – that we mostly need if we’re scared, thought they were going to get burned in fire, but Papa grabbed them before the fire hit the house.
KUT News: That is so wonderful.
J. Gwin: Do you remember when we were driving down the driveway?
L. Gwin: I saw half of the fire when we were driving down the driveway.
J. Gwin: Yeah, I think that’s when we realized that we had waited – we had left just in the nick of time, really.
KUT News: Not only were you smelling the smoke and seeing the ash and the embers were coming, you actually saw the fire going out your driveway?
M. Gwin: Yeah, we live in a very forested area, so you can’t see very far and we have a long, kind of winding driveway and so as we’re leaving our house, I remember – I remember coming around the bend down our driveway and not 200 yards away you could see a wall of fire. I mean, we were, you know, when we left we had this feeling of – we had actually evacuated for the Wilderness Ridge fire before. Actually, my wife lost her office.
KUT News: Do you want to sit? I’m sorry.
M. Gwin: Sure.
KUT News: And Oliver can sit on your lap.
M. Gwin: Lincoln, I need you to be still, please. We had evacuated before for the Wilderness Ridge fire and the smoke had been very thick.
(Exchange with children.)
M. Gwin: The smoke had been very thick when we evacuated for the Wilderness Ridges fires, so this had a similar feel. It had been very dry that year. This was the fire that burned two years previously to this and Jennifer lost her office in that. But, we had evacuated our house and so it didn’t feel scary. We’d done it once before and gotten away with it, so to speak. You know, the house had come out alright and at this point, I think, nobody realized how big the fire was. It was just like we should be precautious – you know, take caution and leave. We’re at the end of a dead end road. There’s no reason to put ourselves in danger to be sitting by the house and I should go help with the fire department. So, there was – we weren’t in a rush packing. We hurried a little bit. It’s funny how you don’t think of things.
J. Gwin: We were in total denial.
M. Gwin: But we were in denial. You know, it was just – the only reason I grabbed the blankets that Oliver was talking about was because I happened to see it just as I was leaving. All I did was grab a change of clothes for the boys and a couple of diapers and fortunately Oliver and Lincoln – do you remember what you were doing? You were making a tent with your blankets that day and so I saw them. They were out and not on their bed or anything like that, so I just got lucky and grabbed them, but we were leaving thinking, “Oh, we’ll be back. We’ve been through this before.” And, like I said, we about came down our driveway and I looked and to the right there was a wall of flame. It was huge and it was maybe 200 yards from, you know, our home at that point and you had seen all the smoke and the ash, but you didn’t realize how close that fire really was and how quickly it was moving.
I mean, we were really fortunate, by the grace of God, that we got moving when we did because a few minutes would have made all the difference in the world and we just had no idea and I think that’s what made a difference in that fire as catastrophic as it was, there was – there was such an element of grace that it came during the day and in the same sense that John and Jen, our neighbors, came looking for us. When I left and I saw how close that fire was, you know, I went and drove to all the neighbor’s houses because we were in separate vehicles. So, she took the family out and I started driving to all the neighbors’ to make sure people were gone.
At this point, I had turned on my radio for the fire department, so I was listening to the traffic and realizing at that point how serious it really was and how fast all of the efforts were centered on evacuation, but there were so many roads, so many places – it was growing so quickly in so many directions that even with all of the emergency responders focused on evacuation, it was neighbors notifying neighbors, check on neighbors saying, “Hey, wake up. Are you home? Let’s get out of here,” that made the difference. I don’t – I feel relatively certain that no emergency responder ever mad it up our road because they couldn’t have and so if the neighbors hadn’t been calling each other, who knows that could have happened and there are so many back roads like that in Bastrop County that it was, you know, it was a blessing in a sense. We’ve see it since the fire, but that it was there before the fire too, that sense of community, of knowing your neighbor and having that care and concern for your neighbor and being able.
You know, we lived on a street we knew every single neighbor and we had most of their phone numbers, you know, and if we didn’t have one, the other neighbor had their phone number. You know, that – that sense of community because you’re kind of out in the woods and there’s just a few and you end up knowing each other well, you know, and spending time together and things like that. So, it was a real – it was a blessing and I think if it hadn’t been for the neighbors reaching out – I mean, and that was half of the calls as that day went on, you know, we couldn’t do much as firefighters. Two of my fellow firefighters almost lost their lives because neighbors called and said, “Hey, we were trying to get to this place, but we couldn’t get back there and there’s, you know, there’s people that live back there,” and so they were going through the fire and smoke to get back to this house to try and evacuate somebody, but they would have never known if it wasn’t neighbors knowing that someone was there.
So, again, even – even when the neighbors couldn’t do it, they had the information that the first responders needed. So, it was – that – that decision to evacuate was a very wise one and that it went so well is amazing, amazing and I think it was because officials were moving. You know, while nobody came up our road, they were set up down there pushing that traffic along, getting everybody moving, not letting anybody stop and gawk or anything like that. So, it was just amazing. All of those elements, you know, I think for me when it really drove home is, you know, you have – you can’t be self-reliant and you can’t be reliant on others to take care of you. You’ve got to have all of that coming together. You know, you have to have neighbors helping, you have to pitch in and you have these people who are trained for emergencies that know what to do to help the people that are trying to help themselves and one another. It was – it was astounding to watch in action. But, what did you think, Oliver, when you saw the fire when you were in the car with Mama?
O. Gwin: Get – one of the wheels were going to get flat from the little – from a little bit of the fire.
J. Gwin: I started driving real fast on a very windy, bumpy road and I’m just glad my axis didn’t break – axle – axle. So, Mama started driving pretty fast, huh?
O. Gwin: Yeah.
J. Gwin: Do you remember when you saw Papa for the first time at the gas station when he showed up finally? You were very glad. We were – I didn’t know he was going to be driving to all of the neighbors’ so, you know, I was right ahead of him and he just didn’t come and he didn’t show up and he didn’t show up and he didn’t show up at the gas station and so we were all relieved when he finally drove up.
KUT News: How much time between when the neighbors called you and you left your – got in your car?
M. Gwin: So the neighbors had called early when the first – when the first fire, you know – so it was about two and a half hours from when the fire started so they –
(Exchange with children.)
He was also – he’s a board member on the fire – on our Heart of the Pines Fire Department, so he had a pager. He wasn’t an active firefighter, but he had a pager, so he knew that this fire was going on and it was such a dry, hot year. Everybody was waiting for something like this to happen and everybody – you live in a forest of pine trees, you’re very nervous when you’re like that. I mean, it was so dry, Yaupon was dying and if the yaupon’s dead, then you know it’s going to be a bad fire because yaupon’s a very dangerous fuel once it gets burning. So, they had called and we were aware of it for a long time. It wasn’t until we saw the ash falling. We actually stepped outside and saw the ash falling that we made that decision to leave and we spent maybe five minutes, I think, packing up. If you can say it with your normal voice. What do you call our home?
O. Gwin: What?
M. Gwin: The home that burned up?
KUT News: What is that?
M. Gwin: Oh, it’s really sweet. I don’t know why it’s so relaxing to me.
J. Gwin: No, come on. Just use your normal voice. No one can understand you. The house that what?
M. Gwin: The call it the home that burned up or the house that burned up and it’s funny because it’s…
O. Gwin: The house that burned up!
M. Gwin: It’s such a factual description and they use it all the time just very naturally and it’s been helpful in coping because it’s just so matter of fact. They’re like, “Oh, that was at the house that burned up,” or “Oh, I miss the house that burned up,” you know, but it’s – hm?
O. Gwin: Burned down.
M. Gwin: Burned down? But just that kind of honesty and it’s – you miss the house, but you don’t just call it the house, you bring the present into it and call it the house that burned down. It’s been interesting watching them deal with it and very honest about being sad about it, but then at the same time, being very flexible with where we’ve ended up. It’s interesting. Alright.
KUT News: Very direct and then moving on, right?
M. Gwin: Exactly.
J. Gwin: Although they’re getting a little tired of looking at – we’re taking them to another house to look at. We don’t know what we’re doing. We’re possibly going to rebuild or we’re possibly going to buy a new house and we keep bring them. “Well, did you think of that house? What did you think of this house? Can you imagine living there? Can you imagine living here?” So…
KUT News: Where are you living now?
J. Gwin: We’re living in a little rental in Webberville. It’s been wonderful, right next to the river and, yeah, beautiful birds and plenty of space and places for them to ride their bikes, which we didn’t have before. So…
KUT News: Well, let us continue. What should we do? Do you think the boys want to go…
J. Gwin: I think maybe just take them out and run around and play, you know.
KUT News: So – so shall we Mark stay…
J. Gwin: Sure.
KUT News: And then you come back Jennifer and give your story.
J. Gwin: That sounds good. So, when y’all are done, you want to just come get us?
M. Gwin: Yeah, I’ll just switch with you.
KUT News: Okay.
J. Gwin: Alright, Forest, we’re going outside. Sorry, when we imagined, we were like, “Maybe we can do this.” We kind of imagined this ideal setting of us all sitting…
KUT News: You never know. Really, you never know and y’all did great.
M. Gwin: Always lots of energy with three boys.
KUT News: Yeah, I bet. I can’t – you know, they’re just darling. They’re just beautiful and darling. Okay, so, what – you saw this wall of fire.
M. Gwin: Right.
KUT News: Two football fields away, right?
M. Gwin: Yep, exactly.
KUT News: I did my math.
M. Gwin: Yes, you got it that time, exactly. Exactly.
KUT News: And how fast do you think it made it to your house after you saw it?
M. Gwin: Probably within about 10 minutes, I would say. You can tell when a house goes up. As you’re watching a fire, there’s kind of an explosion so to speak and I had just finished going around to all of the neighbor’s houses and had come up and Jennifer was there and my wife is very intuitive and she looks at me and she’s just got tears in her eyes and she’s like, “Mark, I felt it. I felt our house go up.” And so, like I said, my – my wife is very intuitive and she’s always been right and so I don’t doubt that that really was the moment that it happened. We were, you know, of course, at that time, I’m like well, “You know, you never know. It could’ve been something else.” So, you kind of hang on to that shred of hope at that point, but not – not too much. You knew the fire was that close and how dry it was and where our home was, but you never know how things are going to work out. We were very fortunate. So many people had to wait a long time to find out what happened to their homes. You know, I think that made – you know, I wasn’t very involved in the community because I was very involved with the fire department and also with the newspaper trying to get out the story.
KUT News: Were you a reporter?
M. Gwin: Yeah, I was – at that time I was the editor and – or not the editor, I’m sorry, the publisher for the Bastrop and Smithfield newspapers. So, we were, at that point, putting all of our attention, obviously, into providing people the most information that we could, the stories, what hope there was to be found, but mostly, at that point, there wasn’t a lot of hope, but so many people had to wait weeks to find out what happened to their homes and I was able to go on – so that fire started on Sunday and I was able to go Monday morning and go into my neighborhood because I could get behind the scenes. I was a firefighter and basically what – to tell you the course of that day, so when I met Jennifer at the gas station, it was obvious that we wouldn’t be going home that night and even though my arm was swollen, I couldn’t use my left arm very well, I could stand and operate a pump. I mean, with firefighting, you may not be the guy that’s being cool and exciting with the hose, but there’ s a lot of work to be done and there’s things that you can do that help other people be the cool guys with the hose. You know, I always prefer – everybody wants to be the cool guy with the hose, but you do the best that you can. So, I decided that I was going to stay and, you know, obviously and help and try to do what I could with the fire department which mostly meant running pumps at that – you know, standing by and making sure there was enough water and re-supplying the water. You always have a pump operator while somebody’s on the hose.
KUT News: Where was this?
M. Gwin: This is right by that area. Heart of the Pines is basically the heart of the fire as well, really, that very central area. It started outside to the north of our district in the Bastrop, you know, the Bastrop Fire Department’s district, but it very quickly – as it moved south, it came into our district. Now, we already had firefighters responding because every fire department in the county was up there working that until other fires – there were so many – that was a very interesting difference that day. n the 2010 Wilderness Ridge fire, no I think it was 2009 Wilderness Ridge fire, we had support from other counties and air support within a few hours. On this fire, there were fires across Central Texas on that same day. All of the air resources were already on other fires. So, that first day, all we had was the local fire departments, which are a wonderful group of very brave women and men, but it’s not enough in the face of something like that. I don’t know that it would have made a difference to have had everybody in the world that day. I mean, when a fire is that big and that fast with winds that strong and a drought that bad, you’re mostly just doing what little you can. You’re not trying to actively stop it.
You try to protect what structures you can. So, that’s what we were doing that first day. Jennifer – we met up at the gas station. I told her I was going to stay with fighting the fires. She decided to take the boys to the grandparents to stay and be safe and she stayed with her sister in Austin, which is a little bit closer, with Forest because he was a baby and so I went to – at that point, we were operating under the hope that we could kind of contain the fire at Highway 71. It’s a very wide stretch with just some grass and things like that. So, it had already hopped across in a couple of places and was going and going, but we were hoping to keep it – just the wall from advancing and that wind was pushing so many embers. You’d have what we call spot fires, which is another small fire that starts off the main fire, a quarter mile or more away from the head of the fire. You know, that’s what I was talking about how it moves so quickly. You get the small spot fire and it’s heating up and moving this way and then the big one’s coming and then they just come together and, you know, explode and you’d have these – this happened on our land actually where our house was.
You’d have these vortexes where the heat would kind of be trapped under the smoke, but then that smoke would reignite, there would be so much heat and so you’d kind of have these rolling whirls where it was just – we can see it on the land where our house is. Part of the land, the yaupon may be coming back. There’s still some seeds in the ground. It’s actually greened up very beautifully, but there’s a very large portion – we’re on five acres – where the house was and around it probably – if you were to look from the house, you know, maybe about 300 or 400 yards in all directions, nothing. I mean it’s – if you drive through the fire zone, you’ll see a lot of places where the trees still have needles, but they’re all dead. That fire burned so hot – you know, it was just that tremendous amount of heat and flame falling in this kind of horizontal rolling fire. It completely scorched every needle, all of the bark off of the trees. It completely baked the ground so that nothing has come up.
You know, it cooked the roots of everything in the ground. I mean, just the difference in the intensity of the fire in different places was absolutely amazing. So, you’d see kind of these pockets where, oh maybe a couple of trees survived or a house survived, but then you’d see these pockets where it’s still looks like a moonscape to this day.
KUT News: Is that considered a crown fire?
M. Gwin: A crown fire is anytime a fire is moving through the tops of the trees. So, no that’s, you know, fire activity, but a crown fire is when, you know, there’s enough wind and the trees are dead enough because a lot of times, under normal conditions, a fire has to move along the ground, kind of heat up the, what are called ladder fuels, the shrubs, the yaupon, enough to where they ignite and then those have to burn hot enough to ignite the treetops. Because normally, you know, in a normal year, the treetops have enough moisture, the ladder fuels have enough moisture that they don’t catch fire very easily. You know, they’re – they’re resistant to it. You know, no plant or person wants to be on fire. That’s not a good way to live, so – but during the drought, everything was so taxed, like I said, the yaupon was dying and that was the first time I had ever seen yaupon die and the trees were so dry that they didn’t need that ladder fuel, just a little bit of heat and spark was enough to ignite it.
It didn’t need what’s called pre-heating of the fuel, which is, you know the ground pre-heats, it gets that yaupon hot enough and dries out enough that then it goes on. Everything was ready to catch on that day, so the crown fire just means that it was traveling through the tree tops and so it could move all the faster because it was an uninterrupted forest and by it’s nature, a crown fire, it’s up in the air where there’s lots of oxygen and it can move very quickly because it’s higher up in the wind. So, a crown fire can move much more quickly than a traditional fire that’s moving along on the ground.
KUT News: And when you saw that wall of fire, was that the lower part or was it also in the treetops?
M. Gwin: Oh, you know it was – it was everywhere. I mean, the ground fire will usually be moving with the crown fire. It’s just if that crown is going, then it helps everything more and then what says burning is those ladder and ground fuels. So…
KUT News: That vortex that was under the smoke and that sterilized the land, what is that called? Is there a name for that kind of fire?
M. Gwin: You know, I’m sure that there is. I didn’t pay enough attention to that part in fire school, I guess.
KUT News: I know, I don’t know.
M. Gwin: But, I think a vortex – you know, they – they just call it extreme fire, you know, extreme fire behavior. There is, you know, they talk about fire creating its own weather and it does and just there’s so much heat and everything is happening in just a totally novel way and there’s very – you know, it’s hard to know what’s going on there because nobody’s going to survive and you don’t set up and experiment for something like that, you know, as a general rule. But, you know, what they call it – you know, what I’ve always just thought of as just kind of a rolling vortex where the heat and the flame that’s traditionally been rising, it can’t rise anymore and so it starts falling forward in front of itself and it’s pushing and it just kind of starts on this, you know, it creates almost it’s own little enclosure and oven and it – it does a number. So…
KUT News: You – you went to neighbors’ to evacuate on your road.
M. Gwin: Mm-hm.
KUT News: Jennifer went to the fire – to a gas station was that?
M. Gwin: This is – it’s Duke’s Stop. It’s at the end of – we live on a dirt road and as you’re coming out to go out to the highway, at the intersection of the road that you come out on and the highway is Duke’s Stop gas station and that – during the Wilderness Ridge fire, it was a command post. It’s just kind of a natural gathering place because you’re right at the highway, so you know, you can get out of there in a second, but you feel kind of safe because it’s – it’s clear around there, so it’s not like you’re forested in and I guess just because that’s where most of the people would go.
KUT News: Is that Highway 71?
M. Gwin: Yes, ma’am. Yes, ma’am.
KUT News: What is the name of your road and what was your address – is your address?
M. Gwin: My address was 267 Winfield Thicket and Winfield Thicket is a little dead end dirt road off of Crafts Prairie, which is off of Ponderosa. On Winfield Thicket, we had, oh let’s see, Kay, Jean, Alisha, John and Jen, us – I think we had seven – seven residences on the road and then another old – oh, no I take that back. I’m forgetting Bill and the other neighbors. So maybe nine residences. Every home on Winfield Thicket burned to the ground. There is not one home that as left and everybody on our street got to know that because, like I said, I walked the street on Monday. It’s beautiful in its own way. You know, I mean, if you can get past the loss, which usually you’re kind of a state of shock. Like I said, I had been on the Wilderness Ridge fire, which was a huge fire and so, it was interesting because it’s such a change in the landscape. You go from this dense forested area where you can’t see the contours of the landscape, but you know that it’s hilly, but you can never see more than maybe 40 feet to suddenly everything was laid bare and it’s all dusted with the white, the ash.
KUT News: And this was on Monday?
M. Gwin: Yes, Monday morning. We had worked the fire through the night and so on Monday morning, we were cut loose to get – you know, to rest a little bit and, you know, people were bringing us food and things like that. We were relieved for a little while. Nobody really took it, but I took the opportunity to go back and look at that and people took a little nap. Actually, Monday was the hardest day for our fire department. Sunday night I was the only person who had been – who had – you know, I hadn’t seen it, but I knew. You know, I was the only person who lost a home in the fire department. By Monday morning, overnight, one other firefighter had lost his home because the fire was pushing – the fire was primarily pushing south because of the winds, but it was growing to both the east and west and most of our department was to the east of the fire. So – it’s so funny in an ironic way.
By Monday morning, one other firefighter had lost, so at this point, two firefighters in our department had lost our home. When we got cut loose around 9:00 or 10:00 in the morning, I’m not sure, I actually took a firefighter to his home up on Cottletown Road and he was selling his home. He was like, “Well, I lost my home. Maybe I’ll buy yours,” because he was showing it to me. It was a nice home. I could see our – moving our family there and it seemed, I guess because of the previous experience, we were like, “Okay, the fire wins for a day or two, but then you can come back and control it.” So, he gave me a little tour of his house and then I left, you know, left him there to take a nap and most of our firefighters went home to take naps. By 3:30 that afternoon, about 10 other firefighters had lost their home in our department. You know, it was just you go home to take a nap and then you wake up to be evacuated to fight the fire that you had spent the, you know, night fighting. He was – I think it caught everybody by surprise. It was very – everybody was very brave and just put themselves in to their work, but to have spent so much energy fighting and working to protect others and, you know, I don’t know, it just seemed almost unfair for them at that point, especially to me. I think they probably took it with more grace that I did. Some people really, you know, obviously we’re affected by the loss of their home and felt it really deeply and it was almost easier for me because it happened right at the beginning and I just had to work, but they had put in so much work and so much effort and wanted so badly to help other people and here they were and they weren’t even able to save their own homes.
KUT News: So they went home Monday morning to nap?
M. Gwin: Mm-hm.
KUT News: Feeling safe that they were going to their home and then they left and then their home became part of the fire?
M. Gwin: Right, you know, most of our department lived along a road called Cottletown Road. This is where most of those homes were. They went home – you know, I don’t think anybody – maybe they didn’t feel safe but it wasn’t – you were going home to nap. You weren’t going to go home to the shelters or something like that because, you know, especially showing up in firefighter gear, people – as the people have had to evacuate, are really hammering you with questions and you’re so tired and you feel so bad because you can’t answer their questions unfortunately. They’re very supportive and very nice, but they’re just – they’re so hungry for information. They’re in such a desperate place and you look like you know what’s going on. I think that’s the interesting part is it’s given me a realization. Don’t – you know, officials don’t always know what’s going on because they’re officials. They’re just doing the best they can and they have training to try and deal with it, but they don’t have a secret cash of information that they’re hiding. So, everybody went home to take the nap and then was, you know, awoken to evacuate. Various – you know, most people I don’t think were sleeping. hey – you’re a firefighter and there’s a fire going, all you want to do, I mean, my chief I don’t think he slept four hours in four days. You know, he was just – there were a lot of really dedicated and strong women and men on that department and all of the fire departments that did nothing else but do what they – what little they could and they saved a lot of homes because of it. You know…
KUT News: And so, they went home to – to nap. I’m sure the adrenaline and everything they couldn’t nap, but they went home to rest.
M. Gwin: Right.
KUT News: And when did they get the call time, roughly, to evacuate?
M. Gwin: I’m not sure. You know, it would have been later that afternoon. You know, maybe 3:00 – 3:30. I’m not – I don’t know the details because I wasn’t up there. So, you know, in a sense, everybody was kind of scattered. It was very – we had our radios for communication, but it was – it was still a very hard time. You know, we have one firefighter who is an amazing gentleman and he – this is one thing people maybe don’t know about the fire and what happened. If you can imagine a water system and then 100 homes burn down, well, what happens to the water supply to those 100 homes? It all starts gushing. It doesn’t stop. You know, now all of a sudden all of those fixtures that only let water out when you want it out are just – that water line is spewing and, you know, people have three-quarter inch pipes. So, all of a sudden, you’ve got multiple, you know, dozens, hundreds of homes destroyed in a very short period of time. The crews aren’t able to access and shut off, you know, water supplies and things like that and well. Maybe – and I’m not sure. I don’t know exactly what happened, but probably some of their pump stations or something like that were lost by Aqua – all of the fire hydrants in the areas that we were fighting fires, none of them worked. You couldn’t get water.
KUT News: Because they were drained.
M. Gwin: Exactly. There was no water pressure in the line. There was no water to fight the fire with in the places you would go, a fire hydrant. So, we were having to drive to Smithfield or Bastrop to truck in water. You couldn’t set up. One of our firefighters, I mean, he had – he lived near a fire hydrant. He had a plan, he had hose lays and everything ready to protect his neighbors and he goes to turn on the water and there’s nothing there and so yeah, here’s a man who took fire safety very seriously, did a lot of planning and it’s like, “Oh,” you know. That fire, I think, changed the way people look at fires because the power and the ability of it to destroy things. There’s no way, you know, you can’t be upset. Like, “Oh, they should have had parallel –” there’s nothing that could be done in a reasonable fashion to ensure it.
You just make due with the best you can, but I think it was a real surprise like the fire hydrants don’t have water. You know, like so you figure out what you’re going to do and it’s not, “Oh, they messed up,” or “They should have done something different.” There’s nothing that could have been done. It just – it kept surprising you like that, this fire, you and know and how it was going. I mean, just how fast it moved, that it made it, you know – I know, you know, two miles an hour doesn’t sound very fast, but when you’re talking about a fire that’s a half a mile side, that’s a lot of ground to be covering and you think about one firefighter with a hose facing a wall of flames that’s, you know, 40 feet or more, you know, it’s just – you use up your water real quick and you wouldn’t stop it. So, that’s why it all turned to structure protection and saving the homes that you could.
KUT News: So, the man who showed you his house or had it on sale…
M. Gwin: Mm-hm.
KUT News: For sale, he lost his?
M. Gwin: Yes. Yeah, he lived on Cottletown. A bunch of – a few firefighters, you know, we did start getting more resources from other areas on Monday. You know, as the scope and the area and so there were – one firefighter, they had the plane drop some kind of flame retardant so, you know, his house had a funny color to it or whatever, but then it was cleaned up, but they saved a couple of houses out there for some people. You know, but there were some areas where it was, you know, we always talk about, you know, the homes that you can save and the homes that you walk away from. You know, homes with pine needles on the roof and the brush growing real close and everything like that, which a lot of people don’t want to cut the trees back from their house because they like living in the woods, which is understandable. I was the same way, but you don’t – that’s not a house you can save in a forest fire. The ones that looked like they came out of the city and got dropped into the middle of the forest that have a big circle of green grass and no brush or anything like that, those are the homes that firefighters can save and they did and they did an incredible job of saving. It astounds me, when I drive through the neighborhood, seeing how many homes made it. I mean, obviously, you’re always blown away by the number of homes that are destroyed, but to see a house still standing next to one, you know, surrounded by homes, you know that firefighters did a lot of work and were in a lot of danger to keep that house standing.
KUT News: How many firefighters are in your – at your department?
M. Gwin: About 20 – 24, something like that. We’ve grown quite a bit since the fire. A lot of people have joined, which as been a blessing.
KUT News: And how many lost?
M. Gwin: I think – it’s funny that I don’t know it better. I want to say it was 12 homes, 18 firefighters. You know, we had a lot of couples on our fire department. So, the husband and wife would be out there fighting fires side-by-side and things like that. I want to say it was 12, but I don’t remember exactly.
KUT News: And so I’m surprised you had fire hydrants. So, it must be – the neighborhood must be that built up or the services must have, you know, I mean, I didn’t – you’re not on a well.
M. Gwin: Right.
KUT News: You’re on – you’re on – you’re connected.
M. Gwin: Yeah, Aqua Water Supply supplies most of the water in Bastrop County and I mean, when I say fire hydrants, we had a huge district. Well, not huge, but gosh I can’t even tell you how many, but within the area of that fire, there weren’t maybe but three fire hydrants. So, you know, it’s not like there was one on every street. There was, you know, one at Highway 71 near the gas station at Ponderosa and 71, one up Cottletown and then another weird one somewhere else, but that was about it. So, they weren’t common. Aqua was kind enough to put them in at a couple of places where there were the large mains that were running along the highway before they branch off or something like that.
KUT News: So you weren’t on wells?
M. Gwin: Mm-mm.
KUT News: Like Spicewood.
M. Gwin: Right, well and, I mean, even with wells, wells require pumps.
KUT News: Exactly.
M. Gwin: And so, you know, what went with the, you know, water and electricity were all gone very quickly in a situation like that.
KUT News: Do you want to tell me some more about Sunday when you were on the pump, you know, when you first got to the fire station?
M. Gwin: You know, when I got to the fire station, you know, I was – I was kind of late to the game so to speak because, you know, I had had the trouble with my arm and I didn’t respond to that initial call because I was asleep, so I was a little late to the game. So, everybody had been working for a while and I just found where I could pitch in and at that point, we were concerned – we were doing a couple of things trying to stop it at Highway 71, so we were doing some back burning, trying to burn off some of that grass hoping we’d be able to stop it and doing structure protection, particularly, you know, it wasn’t meant as a selfishness, we weren’t saving firefighter’s homes, we were trying to save the fire station because if you don’t have a fire station, you’re really not going to be a very effective firefighter. So, you know, those were, you know, a couple, you know, what structures we could and the fire stations were what we were doing, you know, through that initial time period because it wasn’t about – you can’t stop a 40-foot wall of fire that’s moving as quick as you can walk. There’s just nothing you can do. What you can do is try and wave a small area and let that first initial push of the fire push past it. Once that first burn off is gone, it’s not that the danger’s past, but it’s got a decent chance of making it at that point. So, you know, that’s what it was. The other firefighters were, you know, really supportive of me. They sent me off a little early. I tried to go and rest a little and then came back because, like I said, at that point, I was the only one who’d lost their home.
KUT News: Where’d you rest?
M. Gwin: I drove to the newspaper and I slept on the couch at the newspaper.
KUT News: And this was Monday morning?
M. Gwin: Yeah, last Sunday night, early Monday morning. I tried for a few hours and then went back out and was working. They were doing – because of the water issue, we had set up drop tanks on 71. They look kind of like giant swimming pools and we had gasoline semi-tankers that were coming, you know, that style and they were filling up with water and filling up our drop tanks and going in an filling with water and coming back because that was the only way we could have water near the scene.
KUT News: So, then what? So you rested, you went back out Monday about what time?
M. Gwin: Oh, I don’t know, maybe 6:00 or 7:00 a.m., worked the drop tank for, you know, for or five hours and, yeah, around 10:00 or 11:00, that’s when they sent everybody home and what I did is I grabbed a neighbor who was out there with his wife but she worked for the Sheriff’s department, so they were handling – they had shut down 71 at this point, so there were personnel making sure that people didn’t drive past and things of that nature. So, my neighbor was there and the two of us, you know, I drove my firefighter up to his house to drop him off to get some rest and he showed me his place and I was like, “Maybe we’ll buy it. How much you want for it?” and then we came back. I came back, I grabbed my neighbor and we drove to the base of Winfield Thicket, you know, the dirt road. You couldn’t drive up it at that point. So many trees had burned and fallen across the road, so there was a lot of crawling and we walked along the road. He took pictures of everybody’s house and, you know, sent them all with his phone or whatever so everybody could see their house.
You know, we walked the whole road and he was – my neighbor’s a smart guy. He was out there, the water wasn’t on at that point, but he knew and found a little tool in the ashes somewhere and we went around turning off the water to everybody’s place so that when it came on it wouldn’t be – you know, when it finally did come on, it wouldn’t be blasting out and then we both lived at the end of the road and so when we got there, I split off to go to my house. He split off to go to his house and our neighborhood had really come up over the past eight years. When we first got out there, there was only two people living on the road initially and then I built my home there. I did it myself with somebody that helped me over the course of two years. They built their home. He did a lot of the work, hired some of it, but he did a lot of work building his home. John and Jana, they had built their home. They had moved in maybe three months before. It was their dream home. So, everybody had really invested a lot of love in that place. It was, you know, just watching different people handle it differently. What’s been amazing to me is every single person, with the exception of Jennifer and I, that lived on that road, is rebuilding or has already rebuilt and is in their home.
You know, some of them Monday were calling their builders and lining them up. You know, there wasn’t a moment’s hesitation of what they wanted to do. For us, our property was one of the hardest hit in the sense of that moonscape nothing, you know, on five acres it was a forest. I don’t think there are five trees that are living and they’re all down near the Wet Weather Creek, where we can’t build because it’s under Deer Flood Plain. So, we’ve got to basically say we’re going to live – “We’re going to put a house up in the desert and try to recuperate it and maybe in 30 years it will feel like home again.” So, there’s a lot of – my wife and I call it our 20-minute lifestyle because every 20 minutes we have a different decision about we should go back to the land. That’s where we’ve lived since the day that we were married. That’s the land where she gave birth to all three of our sons. I mean, how do you turn your back on that land and that time and commitment and just that association, but at the same time, how do you say, “I want to be in a Texas summer of 109 degrees, sitting in a house where everybody can see you from the road, there’s not a tree in sight and not even really grass anymore.”
It’s just burned rocks that – I mean, the fire was so hot there’s a lot of flint rocks out there. They shattered and so it’s like it’s sharp walking around. Like you could cut your feet walking around pretty easily. It’s a very – it went from a very safe and nurturing place to feeling very exposed and vulnerable and I think we’re definitely interested in rehabilitating the land. The question is do we want to be trying to raise a family in that place. With three boys, you want to send them outside as much as you can and to send them outside into – you know, when we were cleaning up the land, you know, months later, you know, we were trying to hide and this was in the fall, October, and it was almost unbearable because there’s no shade anywhere and the rocks and the flint and everything’s just radiating the heat. It’s just it’s much a different world that what it was. The landscape has changed so much, so dramatically. I know, you know, in the geologic sense, it will be fine, but in our lifetimes.
KUT News: So, your five acres or most of it, was that sterilized – got the sterilized vortex?
M. Gwin: Probably about half of it, but the half where we could build because it’s up on a little hill, so to speak, and it gets out of that – you know we have to – there’s a little Wet Weather Creek. Actually there’s a confluence of two branches of the Wet Weather Creek that come together on our property where we live and – but you can’t build down in that area, which is weird. It’s amazing. It’s like a whole another world down there. We had such a – we were so blessed with the wet spring and winter, we have – there’s an abundance of life down in that little area. No trees, but lots of weeds and plants and it looks great, you know, it looks like, “Oh, you know, the land’s going to come around,” but as soon as you start to go up that hill to where we can build where our house was and all of that, there’s –there’s really nothing. I went out and spread rye – you know, the rye grass that they recommended and there was so little soil. You know, in other places where I spread it, the rye grass is almost as tall as me, just real think and abundant and there I spread it just as thickly and, you know, maybe a plant every three feet that’s just weak and scraggly and maybe six inches because there’s no soil left. You know, everything was just baked, you know, it was sterilized and that shows. So, it’s – you know, a lot of prayer, a lot of patience, a lot of waiting and wondering. Like I said, 20-minute lifestyle. We’ve got a different idea of whether we’re moving to Mexico or going back and building there. We told ourselves we’d give ourselves a year before we worried about it, which has been a blessing, but you can’t keep yourself from worrying about it anyways, thinking about it and wondering.
KUT News: How many days did you fight the fire?
M. Gwin: Oh, I mean, weeks. I mean, that’s not the only thing I was doing. Like I said, I worked for the newspaper, so not only was that my job, but it felt like an important thing to be doing as well and as, you know, because our fire department so may people lost their homes, the other firefighters were really, really kind to us and we were officially, you know, released from helping. You know, please – they were basically saying, “Please, you know, take care of yourselves, take care of your families, don’t do this.” You know, we’ve got enough resources now at this point, you know, U.S. Forest Service and everybody is there within, you know, a number of days and they were like, “Please,” you know, “we’ll be okay.” But, we didn’t have any homes anymore and our family was the fire department. So, that station kind of turned into – I mean, people were sleeping there and living at the fire station and that was the family. Those were the people that understood and we didn’t want to sit around being idle. So, people just kept on going out and, you know, responding to calls, watching for the homes. You know, so it was – you know, there’s two parts to a fire. One’s like the initial phase where it’s just winning and blowing and blowing and you can’t do anything and then at some point that tide starts to turn. But even then, within all that area, when you’re not on those edges, those homes that you saved, they’re still in danger. That fire moves through so fast it does an initial burn, but there’s a lot of fuel left there.
There’s a lot of fuel left there. There’s tree stumps, you know, trees that are burning at the stumps that are going to fall over sooner or later, but are they going to fall on the house. There’s piles of unburned stuff or, you know, some embers can blow underneath the deck, maybe, of a place that made it. So, you know, no spend, you know, weeks afterwards going around putting around what are called hot spots, you know, little patches of fire and it was especially common there because it was a pine forest. Pines will create that hardwood where the sap kind of – when a tree dies, the sap kind of contracts into the center and it’s beautiful, smells great when it burns, but so a tree dies, tree is long gone, but the stump is underground and slowly rotting, you know, the exterior of it, but that hardwood is burning. So you would have these stump holes where it would be a whole two, three feet into the ground, straight down, where a tree stump used to be that would still be burning, you know, a week or two weeks later.
KUT News: All that would be there would be the heart of the wood, the center?
M. Gwin: Right, it would be the root, yeah, and it would have burned down to a certain, you know, to wherever, but it would still be flaming up in there. It’s just amazing how – how long it can burn and so that fire will travel along roots too and then pop up somewhere else. So, you’re constantly, over the course of weeks, dealing with putting out these little fires that are endangering. You know, you can’t – the fire, in a sense, puts out itself. You know, you can’t cover mile after mile with water and even when you do, when those stump holes – you could sit there and dump, you know, a semi-tanker full of water in there and it’s probably not going to go out. You can flood that hole gain and again, but because it’s a sap fire, it really holds on to its heat and it will reignite itself. The fire kind of, in a large sense, burns itself out, but you’re paying attention to the hot spots that are endangering – that are in danger of maybe blowing up into something bigger because they’re in a heavy fuel load still or are endangering a house. So, you’re trying to put those out. For, like I said, it was weeks. It was weeks.
KUT News: So, what is the name of your fire department and what is the name of your newspaper?
M. Gwin: The fire department is the Heart of the Pines Volunteer Fire Department. It’s an all-volunteer fire department. Pretty much all of the volunteer fire departments in Bastrop County are and they all – people with the Bastrop Volunteer Fire Department also lost their homes as well, but it was primarily us because we lived in that – we had the highest percentage because we are a small department and we were right there, Heart of the Pines in the heart of the fire. There’s a great joke that one of my other firefighters came up with and he was like, “Well, we lost the Lost Pines, but we got the Black Forest.” You know, that kind of, you know, humor helped a lot during that time. The newspapers that I worked for at the time were the Bastrop Advertiser and the Smithfield Times and so we were – the papers a team.
They work together and they cover their own communities and it was very different in each community. Smithfield had a really interesting time of it because a lot of the cable providers went out, so they didn’t even have access to news. You know, like it was coming through on – you know, and even the cell phones were having issues. So, it was an – it was an amazing – an amazing time, but what was really amazing was, you know, people were so responsive so quickly cooking meals and bringing them out. I mean, it wasn’t, you know, two hours into the fire that, you know, people were driving up with coolers full of drinks and pre-made sandwiches and meals and things like that for the firefighters. I mean, we didn’t have to ask. I mean, it was without question. We went to go refuel the – one of the fire trucks with gas and people were just bringing us out food and stuff like that, people at the store. It was – it was amazing. You know, people like to talk a lot about firefighters or the police officers and all of the first responders and they certainly are all amazing, but again, it was – it was the entire community, in a very large sense, that was responding and made it as possible – what would I say. You can look at the fire and be sad about it, obviously, but it doesn’t feel like a defeat. It doesn’t feel like a loss. I mean, it’s a loss in the material sense, but you see the resilience and the care and the community, their vibrancy so much more. You feel it so much more deeply than in a sense, like there’s a very real blessing that you had all along, but you never realized until the fire came and so you – for all – for all of the loss, you can’t really drown in the sorrow.
You can’t – you can feel bad that it happened, but when you try – whenever I’ve tried to dwell on it, I always am just kind of in the back of my mind there’s too many instances of beauty and kindness and, you know, all those things that are a lot more what life is about than necessarily the loss of, you know, the material things, which obviously it wasn’t just material things. We lost a lot of beautiful memories, you know, and things like that and so many people did and, you know, two people lost their lives. So, it wasn’t just a beautiful story, but by the same toke, it wasn’t just a tragedy, you know.
KUT News: Do you know how – what you were feeling or what you were looking at when you first saw your house gone?
M. Gwin: Oh, I think, you know, it’s a shock. I don’t think I’ve really come to terms with it yet. I mean, I built – I built that house with my two hands over the course of two years. I worked, you know, I had a job at the newspaper and they were very nice to me. So, I put in my 40 or 50 hours a week in about three days, three and a half days at the newspaper and then spent the other – and as soon as I’d get off work, I’d go home and work on it at night and then I’d go in the other four days that I had of the week, I’d spend working on the house. The reason why I was working so intensely on it was I – it’s funny I say it took me two years. Really it took me about seven months because we had bought the land, starting building the house little by little. We were living in a one-room cabin with an outdoor bathroom and we had one son, our oldest, Oliver. So, I was kind of building the house, you know, doo-be-doo, and it was hard going and Ben and I had just gotten – I was doing pier and beam and gotten the platform up and the floor and we found out that Jennifer was pregnant, which was a wonderful blessing, but the idea of being in a one-room cabin with a two year old and an infant and an outdoor bathroom was about the most motivating thing you can imagine to try and get cracking.
So, I did nothing but work on that house and it was – it was fun. It was really, really fun. I had friends helping, you know, helping me. Jennifer was eight months pregnant and laying the tile in the kitchen and in the bathroom. It was just – my family came and helped. Her family came and helped. It was just – it was amazing and it was such a beautiful home and we moved in 10 days before our second son was born and so we – you know, Jennifer was like – Jennifer. I mean, there were so many touches about that house. I had to cut down a lot of pine trees to build the road up to the house site and to clear the house site and we took the lumber from those and we milled it. You know, I had somebody come out and I milled it and I stacked it and I dried it and then drove it to get finished milled and so our floor in that house was the pine trees from the forest that we had cut down. I mean, it as the most beautiful – oh, it was the most beautiful floor, you know, that I had ever – ever seen in my life and, you know, and a lot of work and love went into that floor in that house and, you know we – we had a lot of jokes about the house – the house that incompetence built.
You know, because it looked like it was built by someone who had never built a house, but it was – it was our home and you could be a lot more forgiving of the mistakes in the house because you had made them. You want to learn forgiveness, forgive yourself, but – so, you know, and the idea and the dream was this was where we’re going to raise our family. This is my legacy, so to speak, for my children and so losing it is probably not something that’s – maybe will ever be completely processed. It’s a good lesson and putting your legacy into material things, you know, it’s – and I think that’s the challenge of it what makes it hard to figure out how I feel about it because knowing how close we were to being trapped in that fire, trapped by that fire, that you know, if a tree – you know, Jennifer talked about those trees blowing over because so many trees had died in the drought already and that wind was so strong. Trees were falling that day before the fire even got out there. You know, we could have gotten trapped, very easily. A lot of people could have, but – so knowing that we all got out of there safely and we still have each other, it’s like, again, it makes it – you try to fall into that loss and really experience and try and figure out what it means to you and it’s probably a self-protection mechanism, but you always come back to the blessings that you have, that you still have each other and that everybody made it out alright. So, it’s – you know, it’s hard.
I know a lot of people – I mean, I know we lost things that we will never be able to replace, you know, the videos and the photos of Oliver when he was a baby and it’s like his life, as far as documentation, you know, the writings, you know, my wife and I both write a lot and didn’t think to grab any of those things, you know, those things that can’t be replaced. You know, the floor – you know, well – I mean, everybody’s – there was a cedar tree that we cut down from the place that held up the beam in the center of the living room/kitchen and everybody’s height at their birthdays as notched in and there you have this kind of created dream and it slips out from under you and it’s funny. Like the hardest part that I’ve been facing and maybe my wife as well, is not knowing what the next dream is, like not knowing where we’re supposed to go from here is hard. So, I don’t know, a lot of not knowing.
KUT News: You named your third son Forest.
M. Gwin: Yes, Jennifer and I had a wonderful strategy for naming children. We were lucky because she gave birth to all of the boys at home, with a midwife, on that property and so because we were at home, you didn’t have to fill out the birth certificate then. So, we had a day or two to spend with our sons, you know, the babies before we chose a name and we did it kind of a process of elimination. We just – we looked like old Social Security lists and baby name books and everything like that I’d write down names that I thought, you know, I could imagine possibly working and she’d do the same and we’d compile – you know, we got the list together and then like I’d scratch off 20 names that I didn’t think and she’d scratch off 20 and we’d kind of get down to about 10 names that we thought were interesting and then maybe we’d whittle it down a little bit more, but then she would kind of pick her favorite names like one, two, three and I would pick my favorite and it always seemed that we ended up with the same top – that same first choice. So, since the very beginning, since Oliver was born, Forest was a name that was always in her top five, you know, even when she got down to three. It was always in that top three, but I always thought it was a little bit too hippie, to be honest, of a name, but by the time that Forest was born, you know, it – it was right.
It was an homage, I think, to – to where we lived, to the – to the peace. You know, he was born – each of our children was born in a different place on the land, slightly different. He was born – I was in the process of building a deck around our house and he was born outside on a beautiful afternoon just listening to the wind. Our neighborhood was called Whispering Pines and, I mean, it was true. When the wind would blow, it would be just this soft sound. It’s not like cottonwoods which have a very beautiful, but kind of a rustling sound. It was just kind of this (makes rustling sound) and you could hear the wind as it moved through the trees and it was – for an August day, which is when Forest was born, it was amazingly beautiful. It was cool and a nice breeze and it was a such a – I think we both just kind of felt very safe. Like we hadn’t just moved in 10 days before. We were feeling at home in the house with that part of the land with the trees around us and it was just – it was natural, I think, to, you know, kind of as an homage to – to a place that had nurtured us for all the years of our marriage and, you know, for the births of our boys and I said that’s why, I mean, it’s – it’s such a hard decision on, you know, you don’t want to turn your back. I mean, the land becomes a friend and you don’t want to turn your back on your friend in their time of need and I think there’s that very strong sense of loyalty in both of us, but there’s a very strong sense of at the same time, you know, maybe what my friend needs is just time on its own to recover and be left alone and trying to balance that. Who knows, you know. We’re still trying, praying for an answer, some clarity.
KUT News: How long had you lived in the house before the fire hit?
M. Gwin: I guess, yeah, three years, a little over three years. You know, I made a joke when I was building the house which shows you to be careful with words. I was like, “Well, it took me two years to build this house, so if we can at least live in for two years, then I guess I got out of it what I put into it,” and learn to be careful because we got just over three years. It was always a work in progress. You know, we had a ready to move in party, but it was, by no means, a completed house. We still didn’t have, you know, we still had sub flooring upstairs. There wasn’t enough of the wood, you know, the hardwood from the pines to finish the upstairs. I mean, there were a lot of unfinished aspects about the house and about two months, three months before the fire, we just had a deck party. I built a deck all the way around the house. It took me about a year. I spent about a year building the deck. We had just had a party, you know, to celebrate being done with it and it was amazing because it was such a – it really brought us outside a lot and we were eating our meals outside on the deck a lot and, you know, we built it around a tree. It was very – it was very fun to have that aspect to it and, yeah.
KUT News: Anything else you’d like to say?
M. Gwin: Mm, no. I mean it’s – I think I’ve said it all at this point.