Joan Hughes and Lee Klancher
On May 17, 2012, Austinites Joan Hughes and Lee Klancher spoke with KUT News about their experiences during the Central Texas wildfires of 2011.
Hughes: Right so on Sunday the fifth, we decided to go to Bastrop State Park and do the 26 mile, loop bike ride, between Bastrop and Buescher State Park. Along park road 1C which we’ve done many times because it’s such a beautiful, shaded road. So we went out there at about nine a.m. and arrived and got our bike together and just started cycling towards Buescher State Park and as we went along, it was very windy, and, you know its 13 miles to get out there so it was about an hour and a half or so that we went to get to the other side before we turned around and so, you know, maybe its because I grew up in the mountains, in the Santa Cruz mountains in California and actually was evacuated for a fire and all that, but I just was like wow –
I remember saying distinctly if I lived here, I would have a lot of fire insurance because it was so windy and it was a really hot day and just because of our drought and everything, and at one point we were, we were biking by a parking, little parking spot for a hiking trail and there was a car there with a door open and there was a person inside who was smoking a cigarette and I was like – told to myself – I thought to myself, you know should I stop and go over and, and say, you know be careful with your cigarette, or, should I get their license plate, in case like something actually happened that I would know you know, I would have that information, and but then in the end, I was just like thankful that they were smoking in their car and not out on the trail.
And, you know, we didn’t stop or anything, we just kept going, but just in my head that day, you know, we were, just the crunchiness of the, of the woods was kind of in my, in my thoughts so we, we went all the way out to the, to the other state park we had a little snack at their little ranger station and then we headed back and on the way back we stopped at, at – just to take a break, at, a, it was driveway essentially, and as we were standing there a guy came out ,a homeowner, came out on his four wheeler and, he stopped and he said, did you, did you see a tree fall, or do you – did you see where a tree fell down, and we had not heard or seen a tree fall down, and, and then he had, I guess he had heard a tree fall and he was on his four wheeler trying to find where this tree had fallen and then, you know, lee chatted with him for a while, I don’t remember about what but, just, do you remember?
Klancher: Oh yeah, yeah, I do remember we talked a lot about, the dead trees. So that was his thing there was a big tree and he had come out because there was a big tree near his drive way and he’d assumed that that tree had fallen – was waiting for it to fall, and he said, “You know what’s going to happen is it’s going to fall. My wife, she goes to work every day in Austin. She won’t get out,” so he’s very concern about this tree but we talk in length that day about the high winds, the dead trees, and, and kind of the fire danger and he talked a lot about, he talked a lot about a lot of trees had fallen in his neighborhood and damaged homes and damaged the neighbors trucks, and he talked a lot about that, but we actually spent 20 or 30 minutes talking to the guy about his, his wood concerns.
Hughes: Yeah, his trees.
KUT News: So he was on alert.
Klancher: He was on high alert.
Hughes: Oh yeah.
Klancher: He was on high alert; he was, the minute he heard cracking, he told us.
Hughes: And its interesting just in retrospect to think about it like he was – he, he was out to try to find – to see where this tree fell and like, just to make sure it didn’t damage anything or well now we know, right, that, you know a tree fell on a power line and so if, if, if that had happened in his area, he would have been right on it because he was out there looking for it so, and as we went to leave, he said to us, “Be careful! ‘Cause the trees are going to fall down on you, it’s really windy!” You know, and, and as we started cycling down the street a, a, some part of tree cracked and I put my hands over my head and was like, “Oh! Where is it going to fall?” and then it didn’t fall near us but it was very – you know – trees were falling!
Klancher: It was right, it was right above us. I mean it was, it was probably something, you know, four inches or so, it was a big crack.
KUT News: And you heard it right above you?
Klancher: Right above us, yeah, and it fell behind us, but it was, it was crazy.
KUT News: Well, he was absolutely right, you know, he’s not one of these crazy –
Klancher: NO! No, right, that’s what you expect, yeah, but no, he was just a, alert homeowner, so yeah.
Hughes: And I don’t, I, don’t remember, where he exactly where that was, I think that was closer to the Buescher side, the Buescher State Park side than the, than the Bastrop, so you know, I often wonder if, you know, if he lost his house that day, I don’t know, and we haven’t been able to go back yet, but anyway, we continued on and, and then at a certain- actually on the way out, I had, I had said, I’m going to take a video of, of this area today because we had biked there many times and we never took a, I’ve never taken any video of it and we just really love it like I’ve always felt like it reminded me of, of lake Tahoe area in California and just and it – surprises a lot of people I think it – who think of Texas think of like a desert you know and cactus and stuff and, I think its sometimes surprising when you find these woody areas in Texas and they’re just so, you know, based on your, what your expectations are, they might surprise you. So I, was we were cycling back to Bastrop, at, there was a certain point, which is, I don’t know exactly what mile it is but it’s a really beautiful, it has tons of pine needles on the ground, or on the, in the, on the side of the road and it’s just a really pretty, and its shaded, so I went ahead and set up a little spot where I then videotaped lee cycling towards me, which –
Klancher: Very exciting.
Hughes: Yeah, and then, you know and I ended putting that up on YouTube the next day, yeah, it was just a, you know, 20 second thing about how much we loved the pines you know, and then we continued on back to the Bastrop state park and then we went on the pool which, you know like the historic pool to cool off, and it was like the last day or it had one more day to be open for the season and, and then we had lunch at a picnic table, and then we decided to go back home, we were done, it was probably about two I think.
Klancher: Two or three.
Klancher: And we heard sirens, when we left.
Hughes: As well as we were driving on 71.
Hughes: Back home.
Klancher: Yeah absolutely.
Hughes: We saw the first, first brush truck coming, towards Bastrop from Austin, and I, I saw it, it wasn’t a fire truck you know it’s like a, it’s just a red truck, and I was like “uh-oh,” I pointed it out and then, and then, yeah an then we just kept seeing a few more, but we didn’t really know anything and then, until later around five or six and my sister texted me and said, “Are you still in Bastrop? Because it’s on fire or something.” I’m like, “No, we’re home,” and then you know, and then we went and we saw all the news about everything that was happening. So we were, felt very fortunate to have been probably have been one of the last people to you know really cycling in that road, for a long time at least.
KUT News: To see all those trees.
Hughes: Because it wasn’t really, the park was not busy, I mean for a, for a holiday weekend. We were in the pool, there was maybe about 12 or 15 people there at the pool, and, it just wasn’t, wasn’t very busy, and we didn’t see any other cyclist.
Klancher: I don’t think so and there’s usually on a Sunday there’s usually, you see dozen or so because it’s such a popular cycling route but there was nobody that day.
Klancher: It was really quiet so… yeah.
KUT News: So, did you check in? You know, how you go to a park – did you check in?
KUT News: With the…
Hughes: The ranger, mhm. Yeah, at the beginning. We probably checked in with both, at Buescher, because when you, when you take that road, you go, you end up in the other park, the other state park on the other end, at Buescher State Park, but and we usually ride all the way down to the ranger station and then we just go in and say “Hi” or whatever, not that you really have to check in and then, then we came back.
Klancher: And the video – Did you mention the video she put on YouTube? – and it’s been pretty well, quite a few people have viewed that it was.
KUT News: Yeah… I’ve watched it.
Hughes: Like 5,000, yeah.
KUT News: He said.
Hughes: Yeah, yeah.
KUT News: So did the rangers say anything about an unusual day or anything to you?
Hughes: Um, no, not-
Klancher: The rangers didn’t, no.
Hughes: Not when we arrived there.
Klancher: No, just –
Hughes: I mean, when we left we didn’t even talk to them, but no there was not any special advice really about anything.
KUT News: And you didn’t hear, didn’t hear anything, about – you didn’t hear anything until you were going out, were you, were you very near the park when you saw the brush truck.
Hughes: No, we were probably at least 10 of 15 miles.
Hughes: Towards Austin.
KUT News: Before you saw anything?
Hughes: Yeah, yeah.
KUT News: Well, what’d you think about that day?
Klancher: It was kind of, well – I drove through there not long after and I had a, I had to go through, so I drove through on 21 and it kind of reminds you that you really need to appreciate whatever’s in front of you, I mean that – I always enjoyed it, it always beautiful, but to have been there and just a few hours later so much of that is gone and you know, the, those big pines, that are gone, we won’t see in our lifetimes, so it, it I thought it was a little bit of a reminder that the world is a precious and not always permanent place, so you better – whatever you got today you better appreciate it, because it can just be gone so – yeah, kind of shocking and we were really concerned about the guy. I mean, you know, you talk to a lot of people, but we really talked to him for a while, he, he reminded me a lot, I grew up, in a very rural are in Wisconsin and a lot of his concerns, and things. We talked about, we talked about the difficulty of living, you know, an hour or two away from anything. I kind of felt like I connected with him, and so we were worried and he also seemed like the kind of guy who might stay in his house, you know he was.
Klancher: Very protective of his home and very, very careful and I could see him saying no, no you know I’m going to stay here and protect it, and it’s like, “Boy was he okay?”
Hughes: Yeah we, yeah we were worried about what happened to him, it’s just, it’s that same thing where here a couple hours ago you talked to this person, and you know a few hours later, he might have, his house, his entire house might be gone you know, and obviously he’s okay, but his house, you know he might have, he and his neighbors, might have lost his house.
Klancher: I, we looked a Google Earth and I think his house made it. I think I figured it out which one it was in that little cloud of houses, little group made it, but I don’t know, we’ve been wanting to go back for another ride, and see it, I think, it’s open now.
Hughes: I think it is, yeah, we just haven’t had a chance.
Klancher: Yeah so, as soon as, sooner than June here, things slow down a little bit we’ll go back and… see what’s left.
KUT News: And look him up, don’t you think?
Klancher: Yeah, yeah, I’ll recognize the road, so yeah.
Hughes: I mean we’ll go and find that driveway and go up there and see what’s there, for sure. And, and also, I mean, you don’t want the devastation of losing homes but, but fire is a good thing, for, for the environment. I mean it, it cleans out a lot of brush and allows for the regeneration of trees, and a lot of trees can’t regenerate unless their pinecones are burst open by fire and, and so you know from that perspective, it’s kind of interesting to see that cycle. Obviously the, the devastation and impact on personal people is not, is not what we would like, as much. But, from an ecological perspective, of thinking about the park and the plants and things like that, its, it’s kind of interesting. It will be interesting to go back and kind of see how the, the flora is, you know, has changed and will – I mean it will be different, it will be you know different for a very long time, but still interesting.
KUT News: Mhm, and wondering how many trees he lost because he obviously isn’t on park land, but beside, it…
KUT News: And you know the park got it so bad.
Klancher: So yeah it will be interesting to see how he made it, it was interesting, I , I well I don’t know if its relevant but I talked to this guy, this fire expert, I was, telling you about, and he explained that if fires were let to run through the area, it would be fine, but when you suppress fires, then everything gets so dry so that those fires are much hotter, and you probably know all this, it burns, it can be dangerous – more damaging than if it’s just a sort of normal fire cycles, so, anyway but that’s separate to our story.
KUT News: Do you, have you lived through fires in Wisconsin?
Klancher: No, but I do have a fair amount of fire experience with the boundary waters. We used to go down to the boundary waters quite a lot and the boundary waters, they let them just burn, so because of that, because of traveling and that, there was some trips we had where we had to change because areas were on fire, you know. I learned a little bit about it and we would go through those areas after the fires and, and it’s just amazing, how fast it would come back up, and I’ve also traveled a fair amount in northern Alaska, from north of anchorage and that area, the same, they let the fire burn and in fact there’s always fires burin gong the Dalton highway and that’s really cool because you can see where the fires went through, you go through these, these areas of the highway where it’s all sort of smolder, it’s not a raging fire, it just smoldering, sometimes a tree is maybe lit up and you can see where the old damage is and how the new stuff has come back, so, I have a little bit of experience with it.
KUT News: And you’re from California and you, you have direct experience with it.
Hughes: Yeah, I think it was in, around, 1984 – I can’t quite remember exactly what year – but we had a big forest fire and we – our home – we were evacuated for at least seven or eight days where we had to, you know live in a hotel and our house didn’t… luckily, you know the, the wind shifted and, and so it, that fire went a different way, but the way it had been going you know, helicopters came over and said evacuate you know and that’s how we learned to evacuate and, it’s pretty scary you know when that happens but yeah so, so luckily we didn’t have a personal loss, from that, but and I was very young at the time, I was 12 of 14 or something but, but yeah, there were and again, it’s a rural area mountainous area, so – there’s not as much, there are certainly houses but not, not the density of houses like were in Bastrop, there weren’t you didn’t, you didn’t really have subdivisions or anything like that I mean, you would have just you know a few houses here and there.
KUT News: How often did you go to Bastrop?
Klancher: Once every two or three months probably we would go.
KUT News: Really?
Klancher: Yeah, that was really our favorite place to bike and, it’s off, there’s not a lot of traffic. It’s green, which we like. Its hilly, which we like; the shade is great.
Hughes: Shade, yeah.
Klancher: Because when it’s hot, you know you can go out there in the mid-summer and if you go, get there at eight o’clock, it’s still beautiful, it’s nice.
Hughes: Yeah and it’s the road, is a the park road so cars can go on it but they should be going 30 miles per hour so it’s, you feel a little safer than out on a highway, and we also have hiked there, and run some of the trails, which were beautiful when we did those.
Klancher: Mhm, yeah.
Hughes: But we mostly went there to bicycle.
KUT News: And how long have you been going there?
Klancher: Since, ’08 since we first came I think.
KUT News: You found it right away?
Klancher: Yeah, we did.
Hughes: Somehow yeah.
Klancher: Kind of stuck with it, once we found that we’re like: okay we found our biking escape – you know?
Klancher: And the pool was a big bonus too.
Hughes: In the summer.
Klancher: Yeah, yeah.
KUT News: Well anything else you would like to add to this story about how much you have, about the park and – what you’ve appreciated about it and… you saw, you saw one person smoking in a car, where there many cars, you said there were, few people –
Hughes: That day was, it was very, it was so, there was, there were so few people which is surprising, you know given its a holiday but I guess everyone else went somewhere else but, no we don’t, that was like, probably the, we saw cars driving on the park road there was you know a handful as we did our bike ride but there weren’t very many people at the park heads there was just that, just that one, that was the only one I really, but it may just be because that person was smoking, that I – and I am very, I observe a lot of things, I notice things so, other people may not have noticed that, it was just that day you know, it was just the wind and all that it was just, you could just, it heightened, I was very aware of it, of the fire danger I guess.
KUT News: I’ve heard people say that, even people living in Austin, they were very aware of the wind and…
Klancher: So dry.
KUT News: And of the conditions…
Hughes: Yeah, it really was.
Klancher: Yeah, I, I do think for us that place, certainly for me, you know where I grew up it was very piney and very green and Austin is very green as well and that place especially is such a green place and it really feels, comfortable, like home. It was a very special place.
Hughes: Well, and the smell of the, of the trees, the pine, you can be somewhere there’s green trees but the oak trees, you know oak trees don’t have that piney smell and that what when you went along that park road or hiked down the trails you would really get that and, and you have to outside a car to get it, right? So you would have to be walking or bicycling to really experience that, and that, that’s what I mean I, I remember driving up to Lake Tahoe and you would get to a point on the highway where boom, you could start smelling the pines, and that’s the smell that I kind of associate it with, with the mountains and that area.
KUT News: We do have trees but we really don’t have a forest of trees. Like Bastrop you know, and if you do they’re not anything like the tall –
Klancher: Yeah, they’re not the tall, I think that’s the distinction because there’s plenty of green areas and all that but that spot was really – and, you know, where I grew up we were on a little river and right across we had a little patch of land. My parents owned it. It had a grove a big pines, and there was an old house that when we were kids – it was a falling down house – we used to go play in this rickety, old house you know that, that – Bastrop really resonates, goes back a long ways so it’s a good place. Thank god there’s some left you know.
KUT News: Mhm. You’re going to have to go out its going to be tough to look at it to see.
Klancher: Yeah, yeah it will be.
Hughes: Yeah, we both drove though it another time too but, but to go, but we never –
Klancher: We had to go on bike.
Hughes: We didn’t go in the park you know. So it’s different to go see exactly what you’re used to. And see – kind of compare that.
KUT News: Anything else, you would like to add?
Klancher: Yeah that covers it.
Hughes: Yeah I think that’s it.
KUT News: Okay, well, thank you so much for coming in.
Klancher: Oh, thank you, for taking the time.