*The following transcription may contain spelling errors.
Laura Kelly: My name is Laura Kelly and I lost my home in the fire, the Bastrop fire, on Monday.
KUT News: When we met before, I don’t know if you remember –
Kelly: I do remember.
KUT News: Do you remember that day?
Kelly: Oh, yes.
KUT News: What was that day like?
Kelly: That was, I think the first day that we were allowed to go back to our homes, because for about a week or so Diane and I were at the Smithville Recreation Center and we were not, we could not even go to Bastrop. So, I think by that time we were allowed, we could go around by the way of 304. So, I mean, we had a little bit of freedom there, you know, by being able to go see our places and everything.
KUT News: What was that week like with Diane?
Kelly: I’m just so glad that she was there with me, that we were there. You know, we were just kind of, we were there together and I think the main thing was just surviving, just, you know, you don’t, you just have to survive. You have to be strong and I tried not to think about all the devastation and not knowing what happened to your house for about a week or week and a half, I had no idea. One of the firefighters that was also at the Smithville Recreation Center, you know, I gave him my address and he goes your place has been, you know, it’s been, it’s burned. I said are you sure and then another friend of mine who was a volunteer friend firefighter said yes, it is. And I kept on asking and everything, but we didn’t know until our addresses were listed on the wall, you know, as being destroyed and then that’s when it really hits you hard.
KUT News: I remember that; I do.
KUT News: So what day was that?
Kelly: I don’t remember. You know, the dates and everything. I was there for two weeks at the Smithville Recreation Center and actually, I was very comfortable because I have three cats and three dogs. So, the dogs had their own room and the cats had their own room and I know Diane would go in during the day and at night, you know, and let the cats out in the room so they wouldn’t have to stay in their kennels all the time. Then, there is the Smithville dog park down the road so I took my dogs. It was really, it was an escape; it was so good going over there with my dogs, just having them run around and then I could conduct business making numerous phone calls over there and just kind of escaping the whole reality of it all.
KUT News: What was your, maybe I can backtrack and just ask what your experience was like getting out of your house?
Kelly: Well, let’s see, that Sunday Diane called me and said she was headed, I think she left for the Smithville Recreation Center about three p.m. on that Sunday. She was going over there, I said well I’m not going yet, you know, I’m going to stay here because the deer were in the backyard, I couldn’t see any smoke, I couldn’t smell anything. I thought the deer certainly would know and they were acting just fine, like nothing was wrong. Anyway, usually you can smell the smoke and all that, but that night I watched TV and I talked with my sister; I talked with her, she lives, well, we lived on 33 acres and she lived on that acreage but I couldn’t see her house literally for the trees and it was kind of a bumpy road over there to get over there. But, she said, you know, she was aware of the fire and she has two dogs and three cats.
Anyway, so that night I was expecting a visitor in from Fort Worth, so she kept on calling; she goes I can’t get through, I can’t get through. So, we were on the phone; the electricity went out a couple times but then it came back on that night. I was watching Cold Case on TV. I made, you know, I was just on the couch watching TV trying to chill and during that day I slowly, methodically got some of my things ready for the animals, you know, I thought, I’m going to get the food out, I’m going to get everything ready, just some certain things; maybe some clothes if I need it, so I wouldn’t have to panic if it was time to leave. So, I had all that ready, I was cool, calm and collected and when the electricity went out at 1:00 a.m. on Sunday night/Monday morning, that’s when I left. Because I went outside and it was very smoky outside and so I was very calm, I got my cats and my dogs out and they were calm, too. I thought if I remain calm, they’ll be calm.
So, I got them out and I just drove down the road on the park road, I lived off of, you know, Park Road 1C, to the lookout and several people were there and I stayed there all night. A lot of us, we were just watching, we could hear explosions, I guess propane tanks or, you know, and then you could see where the firefighters were trying to spray, you know, with water the fires and then it would just come back. It was like over and over and I thought where is this? Some people say oh it was the beginning of Cottletown Road, you know, from 71 and I had no idea, but it was, actually, as far as nature is concerned, it was beautiful, I mean, with the fire. But it’s so destructive when you, you know, you hear when there is a lot of black, when you see the black, that’s when houses are burning. I couldn’t help being an animal lover thinking oh my God, you know, these cows and horses.
So, we just watched all night, I didn’t sleep one wink and a lot of these people didn’t either. So, all night and hearing explosions and just stayed awake just watching it and that’s all we could do. Then, the next morning, so I drove down the road, you know, because I saw cars coming back and forth; I drove back down towards my house and I thought, okay it’s still there, you know, it’s there, everything is fine. So, I let my animals out because they had been there all night, you know, the cats were in the kennels, two cats were in a kennel together and I let my dogs out, took a shower, even though my electricity was out. I just thought, well it’s, I didn’t think it was going to burn, I didn’t see any smoke, nothing.
Then I thought, you know, I was thinking about going to my sister’s house up the road, but then I thought well what if I’m stuck, you know, and then that night before my friend Gary had talked with my sister; my sister said I’ve got Melissa, her goldfish, I’ve got her bowl ready, I’ve got everything ready to go. So, she had told me that, you know, Sunday night or the next day or something, Monday. So, I went ahead and left; I thought, okay, I showered and I really didn’t think anything was going to happen. I would have gone over to my sisters or I would have taken more things, you know, but I really, because I couldn’t see any smoke, it was so strange how it would come and go. Then I went to the Smithville Recreation Center, well, I went back to the overlook, you know, and I tried to stay there because I thought, if I leave the park road, they are not going to let me go back. And I just didn’t want to leave the house, I didn’t.
KUT News: When people were watching that night, were they watching, like, watching to see if their own houses were going to get hit?
Kelly: I guess. They were watching, they were, we were all just watching it and just, what could we do. I mean, it looked so far away, but you could just see how it would flare up, the fire and then the firefighters; I was so proud of them, you know, I thought oh my God, you could see where they were working hard and I thought, oh my, these fires are huge. And, then it would pop back up, just back and all we could do was watch. We were just kind of stunned and didn’t say much. I met a lot of nice people, but what else could you say or do, it’s just, but the popping and the explosions, that surprised me. But the next morning, down below there were cattle grazing in the pasture and I thought, oh God, I hope they’re going to be okay, you know, in this farmhouse over here and I just, I worried about that.
KUT News: I think they might have cut some of the fencing for them.
Kelly: They did. They did, because there were two horses down the road, I used to walk a lot and ride my bike on the park road, 1C, to Alum Creek and there were two horses over, oh about a half mile from where I lived. I still wonder, I don’t know if they made it out. But, I saw obvious signs of horses and cattle that had been to my house and I was happy. I thought, oh good, they’ve been here. Because, see, we had a tank over by our house, that’s what we call it here in Texas, tanks. So, anyway, so I guess that was one place they could come and get water. But, yeah, it’s hard.
KUT News: When did you get back on your property then?
Kelly: Let’s see, I left that Monday and that’s probably when my house burned. You know, I left probably about 11:00 that day or 12:00 or something and like I said, I looked back and I thought, you know, I’ll be back and I really didn’t think anything was going to happen. I had another fire, I lost a home in 2004 to an electrical fire and lost three cats in that fire, but I was lucky that, you know, I didn’t lose any this time.
KUT News: So, this is the second time you’ve lost a home?
Kelly: Second time. I lost everything I ever owned in that first fire. I was at work when I found out about that and it’s hard, it’s –
KUT News: That’s incredible.
Kelly: It’s like a death, you know, it is a death in the family. And what made it so hard this time was that not only, you know, do you lose your own home and your belongings, but your friends, they’ve lost everything and then our entire neighborhood, my friends around there, we lost everything and then the beautiful park, because I grew up in Austin and my father taught us how to drive along the park road between Bastrop and Buescher State Park. You know, it’s just, so you’re not only mourning your own loss, your personal loss, but then the loss of the state park, beautiful parks and it just completely changed the landscape where I lived. It was awful
KUT News: Watching you interact with Diane and kind of talking about your other friends, it strikes me that there, it’s almost like a community of people now who all went through this really horrible thing –
Kelly: I know, yes.
KUT News: Is that something, do you have people, I guess you have people who can relate to you, at least?
Kelly: Yes, yes, you do. I mean, it was, I would say it was easier though with my first fire, even though I lost three cats because they probably, you know, died of smoke inhalation. And I had so much support around me, my work was wonderful; people at my work, my friends, everybody was so supportive. This time, it’s like, man, everybody, you know, you just think about the loss that everyone has suffered, some people more than others, so it’s very hard. I mean, and Diane, I loved going over to her house. I love going over there and I loved my house, you know, and just, yeah, to see the landscape. The first part of Cottletown Road hasn’t changed much, but when you drive over there., you try to remember what it was like and it’s completely changed. All of the homes over there are gone.
KUT News: What has the process been like since then for you in terms of trying to get things set up for yourself?
Kelly: Well, my main concern are my animals, because, you know, I have three cats and three dogs and, you know, one big dog, she is 77 pounds and where can you go with three cats and three dogs? You know, I myself could live in an apartment maybe with one dog, one cat, but not that many animals. So, you know, everybody was getting places to live and I was lucky enough, finally I found, through my Yoga instructor, bless her heart, I found a wonderful place to live and I’m still living there.
I’m renting, it’s in Cedar Creek. I’ve got a great deal, I’m so lucky, these are wonderful people, so I’m just very lucky to find that. It’s furnished, it’s a furnished place, it’s on, you know, it’s just beautiful and they’ve just been very open so I’m still there. I still need to buy, you know, my furniture, everything, I feel kind of like a little orphan, you know, I mean, I’m here and there buying things, but I still need to buy, eventually, you know, when I leave or whatever, I mean, I’m going to need to buy things, you know, furniture for my house. But, it has been hard because you think, you know, even with the first fire, you think, oh well, I’ll just get in the drawer and find, no wait a minute, no, that was, no that was the first fire or no, you know, and you remember that, okay, I lost, I had it but, I used to have this, you hear people say that all the time. Now, they probably know how I feel because I was saying that after my first fire. I go wait, that was the first one or the second one, so, I know. Yes, things that I think that I still have and I know I don’t, like, I hadn’t even gotten a toaster, you know, and I’ve always been so careful, like, when I would, I always unplug my toaster, you know, I would always do that because I’m afraid of fires. Anyway, it just happens.
KUT News: Is there a nervousness, I mean, you said, you mentioned about being afraid of fires, do you feel like it’s changed the way you think about the weather, think about, you know, the world around you at all?
Kelly: Well, you realize that life is fragile; life is very fragile, I mean, it can be taken, well, last week, you know, with in Colorado, say.
KUT News: Right.
Kelly: In just an instant, here you go to a movie theater and that’s just awful. I mean, you know, this is more of a natural thing, I mean, even though, was a natural fire, but it’s something, yeah, it makes you think and you realize that life is fragile and it can change in an instant. Just your whole world changes.
KUT News: In a kind of like general sense, how, what have been some of the impacts you’ve seen on the community as a whole, you know, the whole region there?
Kelly: I know there are little buttons that says Bastrop we’re coming back or, you know, so I like that spirit, you know, the people, you know, they’re encouraging people to rebuild. A lot of people are, but a lot of people have moved away and I don’t blame them, you know, I mean, I know, I can’t remember, well, we had that fire in 2009, February 2009, and I remember with my place then I was scared, I was thinking ‘oh, my God,’ you know.
Then, there was another time after that, I mean, a couple of years ago, I’m trying to remember, that I was going home and there was a chance of a fire and they wouldn’t let me get home. I said my animals are over there; they said we will arrest you. That, I mean, I just, I thought, you know, I’m going to get to my animals. Well, I knew I could go on my sister’s road, you know, around, it was bumpy and everything and kind of roundabout, but I did go back that way. So, I just stayed there, but they would not, the fact that they wouldn’t let me back home really was upsetting. But, a lot of people are, I don’t know, I worry about the park, you know, the park. I think, I don’t know if it’s ever going to be the same again or if it is, it’s going to take years. But, the community as a whole –
KUT News: That’s fine. Do you, oh, before I forget, could I ask you to introduce yourself again, sorry.
Kelly: Laura Kelly.
KUT News: And could you say, this is Laura Kelly again.
Kelly: This is Laura Kelly.
KUT News: What was the insurance process like?
Kelly: Well, that was a hassle. I know I heard some nightmares, some people were really having problems with their insurance companies and just everything that they put you through; my insurance was pretty good, but I think some other people, you know, they had better insurance then I did because immediately, you know, they would issue a check for just incidentals or anything like that. But, it took me a little while to get that. One thing that was frustrating was that I would call my contact person and she would never return my call and that was very frustrating, you know, you’re like, ‘oh, come on,’ you know, I wanted to go back to work to get back, you know, to normalcy as much as possible. But, I had all these calls to make, you know, and bills to write.
One thing I did, I grabbed my bills when I left the house. I wanted to make sure that I had all that stuff. I thought, okay, I have my bills. Anyway, but the insurance, it was pretty good, it just took a while, it took a while to get everything in order and it took a few months actually.
KUT News: Are there other things in terms, about the recovery efforts or the, you know, state or local response that you feel like it could have been better handled?
Kelly: Well, they had, you know, over at the school over there, I think, the middle school; they had all these booths set up and all these people who volunteered, which was absolutely wonderful. And FEMA would call me, I just know some people, though, who got aid from FEMA and I don’t know, I never received one red cent or they would have fundraisers, I never received anything. So, I wondered where did that go, not that, you know, I’m looking for a handout, but you’re wondering, okay these fundraisers, where is this going? I still have questions because I have no idea, I haven’t seen anything and FEMA called a couple of times. I called them back, but I never heard back, you know, I didn’t call.
KUT News: What have I not asked you about, you know, that you would like to add?
Kelly: Well, I would like, and I guess it’s part of me that, you know, I need to find out more about the; Diane’s in the Chamber of Commerce, she’s in, you know, she’s got a lot of – and then being in the workforce center, she’s aware of all this stuff. But, I want to know more about what’s going to happen with Bastrop State Park. I would like to know where a lot of the money has gone, you know, for these fundraisers, where it has gone and why some people have gotten a lot of money that didn’t necessarily or people that were underinsured or not insured at all. Now I could understand if they’re not insured, but those of us who were, you know, insured, they’re saying, well, you’re okay, you know, we don’t need to help you. Excuse me, yes, I need help. You know, I’ve lost everything, so I feel kind of not put out, I feel like I’ve been put on the shelf and just forgotten, whereas some people, I think, have been very well taken care of and, which is wonderful, you know, but it needs to be fair. But, people that were underinsured got, you know, $30,000.00 or just one person and then maybe a family that didn’t have any insurance only got $20,000.00. I’m thinking, well, why didn’t this family of four get more money, you know, I don’t understand that.
KUT News: That’s a really good question.
Kelly: I know, it’s like, did this person play their cards right, you know, and I don’t understand; that’s not fair and this person was insured, so I –
KUT News: One thing I meant to ask you earlier, you had a little time and you managed to take care of your animals which is fantastic. Were there any other things that you managed to, and here is a unique situation too, because you had just experienced a fire earlier –
Kelly: 2004, I know.
KUT News: Were there other things that you were able to save or –
Kelly: No. I work with, you know, chimpanzees and we have some very good artists, chimpanzee artists and I, oh gosh. Well, after the first fire, some of my zookeeper friends in the past would give me like Gorilla footprints and all this; I lost all of that. I’ve lost all of my pictures of Cheetahs, you know, I mean, just all that I lost. I’ve lost all of my paintings; I lost the ruby, the elephant, the famous Phoenix Zoo ruby elephant painting in the 2004 fire and then in this fire, you know, I lost all of my paintings from Joey, one of the chimpanzees and pictures of, just a lot, I lost everything. And, I tried to get one down and I couldn’t and I thought, well, here I’m going to fall and break my leg. I was trying, it was from the ceiling. But, some things that I’m thinking, well, I tried to replace after the first fire and I lost them again.
Who would think you would have two fires in a row, but some people did. Some people lost their homes in 2009 and 2011, yeah. I was happy to see that some people on Cottletown Road who had rebuilt who had lost their fire in 2009; they didn’t lose the fire in 2011, I was so glad, you know, I was thinking thank God they didn’t lose that.
KUT News: Absolutely, that is incredible.
Kelly: Yes. I know.
KUT News: And then just the challenges with you’re trying to kind of put things back together and you also have, you mentioned, you know, you’re dealing with loss in all these other ways, your family-
Kelly: I know.
KUT News: So that’s just hard.
Kelly: It is. As a matter of fact, I’m going to go see a counselor, maybe that’s too much to say, but I’m going to because, well, last year I was saying, you know, it was a bad year. I lost my mother two months after the fire and then, you know, with the loss of the fire and then my mother, it’s just been very difficult, and then moving, just every, just the lost of the, a new setup, even though it’s a nice place your living, just feeling that, I mean, sometimes I just cry and I say I just miss my home. You know, I’ve been back several times to feed the deer, oh, one thing that’s very touching, there was a doe and her fawn that I would feed all the time and several deer that would come up. I named one nubs, he just, but they never came up to me, but I would feed them.
The first time I was able to go back to my home, they appeared in the distance. I was so, I just cried with happiness, I went you’re okay, thank God, I wasn’t so worried about the wild animals but they came up and I just said, oh my God, you’re okay. I was so happy. I haven’t seen them since, but it’s almost as if they appeared just to let me know that they were okay. I still have the little bird bath, this little fawn, it’s about this high and this little fawn at one point couldn’t even reach it to drink water and that was really, that made my week right there. When I was able, the first time to come back and I have, I have kept some –
KUT News: Oh, hey, are you here to – oh fantastic, we’re just about finished up, I think, so yeah. You want to come in or –
UNKNOWN: I’m going to go get some
KUT News: Okay, yeah, fantastic. Thank you.
Kelly: But, I’ve been out there a few times to feed the, there’s catfish in the tank and the birds and the deer. But with the rain, thank goodness we’ve gotten the rain, everything’s okay, but you know, it hurt so much. I mean, it looks horrible out there, it looked like a moonscape and now that we’ve had some rain, at least the deer have food to eat. You know, but it’s hard for me. I haven’t been out there now in about, maybe a month. My sister has only been out twice because she lost all her animals. Actually, though, one good story, one of her dogs was running down the park road and our friend, John Ertz, a volunteer firefighter, she was running as fast as she could and he saw her and he picked her up. I don’t know where the other dog is, we, black lab, so.
KUT News: Well, thank you so much for sharing all this with me.
Kelly: Thank you, thank you very much for getting in touch with us.