On March 1, 2012, the Ristow family spoke with KUT News about their experiences during the Central Texas wildfires.
M. Ristow: Okay, so, like, first we saw in our backyard, in the easement the fire, the fire started there….
B. Ristow: So at the back our easement, the fire started there at first.
KUT News: Did it wake you up?
B. Ristow: Well we were sleeping, um, having quiet time, and then we saw the fire in our backyard, when we got up.
KUT News: Did you see it or did someone come in and tell you?
M. Ristow: Well our neighbor came in and told us.
B. Ristow: And they knocked on our door.
KUT News: And this was in the afternoon wasn’t it?
M. Ristow: Uh huh.
Tim Ristow: Yeah, it was on that Sunday, September 4. We’d actually all been napping, except for the boys, they were having their quiet time.
B. Ristow: Yay!
Tim Ristow: I had woken up from my nap, Tracy was still kinda napping a little bit, and I had gone to the kitchen to get something to drink and came back around and all the sudden there was a loud pounding at the door, our back door.
M. Ristow: Like this: Pow! Pow! Pow! Pow!
Tim Ristow: And I went, went back there, and I opened the door, and there was our neighbor, who we, we didn’t really interact that often so I was kind of surprised to see him, and he had this kind of startled expression on his face, and he said, “There’s a fire right back there.” And he was pointing back toward to the easement at the back of our property. He said, “Grab a hose or grab your family and get out.” And I remember looking at him point blank in the, in the eyes and saying thank you because I realized from his expression, and from his tone, this was a serious matter. And so I told Tracy, who was – who had been getting up at that point, and I said, “Our neighbor says there’s a fire. I’m going to go back and check.” So I walked back to the easement, and sure enough the property across the easement directly behind us was just totally engulfed in flames. About half way up the trees, it was just flames everywhere, as far back as I could see. I couldn’t even see the house on that property so I, I assumed it was, it was in flames.
KUT News: Say that again about how far back, what did you see?
Tim Ristow: What I saw, I saw, you know, about half-way up the thees, the height of the trees were just totally on fire. Everything, every, every blade of grass, every bush, every, everything there that I could see, everything was able – was on fire, in that particular acreage right there.
M. Ristow: And the policeman came and said, um, and when we were going to get our stuff a girl and came and said who, um – What did the chief said? And he said, and my dad said, “There’s a fire on the back of your yard and get some stuff and your family and get out!”
Tim Ristow: That’s right, we’ll get to that part too Matty – I’m sorry , I then ran back to the house to tell Tracy, my wife, that there was indeed a fire back there.
M Ristow: Yeah.
Tim Ristow: And you know, call 911 and she started dialing, I think immediately.
KUT News: Did you smell smoke or anything or see smoke?
M. Ristow: No.
Tim Ristow: No that’s the interesting thing, you know –
M. Ristow: We just saw smoke –
Tim Ristow: Okay, hold on, Matty – the, the back of our acreages was so thick with trees an brush and the like that you know we couldn’t see anything. So that’s why, you know, our neighbor coming was a big siren call because we didn’t… you know –
Tracy Ristow: Our house was, I mean our windows were closed, our doors were closed because it was so hot outside that we had the house closed up and had the air on. And, so we had no idea what was going on until our neighbor, Daniel, came over and was pounding on the back door. That’s our first inkling that something was wrong. And we had thought that maybe one of our trees had fallen, and that’s why he was coming over. Because of the drought, you know, everybody had dead pines in there yard, so we thought, you know, maybe he was coming over to tell us that a tree had fallen. We had no idea that it would be what it turned out to be –
KUT News: What succinct words he said, grab a hose or your family is that what he –
Tim Ristow: That’s exactly what he said. I still remember that to this day. He was like, (with Tracy Ristow) ”Grab a hose or grab your family and get out.”
M. Ristow: So we grabbed our family!
Tracy Ristow: That’s right.
KUT News: You bet you did!
Tracy Ristow: And so I called 911, and by that time I went out the front door – because were starting to gather things just to take with us – and when I went out the front door the sheriff was out there going up and down the street. And he saw that we were taking stuff out of the house, because I had grabbed a couple scrapbooks and, he started yelling, “Drop the stuff and get out. The fire is right there, and it’s heading toward Pine Path.” – Which was our way out. And he saw that we had kids, so he was like, “Just drop the stuff and get out.”
M. Ristow: And how, we – when we were driving, um, the left, we saw smoke back there, so we go this way.
KUT News: You went away from the smoke?
M. Ristow: Mm-hm.
KUT News: Well, that makes sense.
Tim Ristow: Yeah, it was a frantic time, definitely.
KUT News: So I read your blog and, so, you had it titled six minutes. So talk about that would you –
Tim Ristow: Six minutes?
KUT News: From the time you, you, of the neighbors warning –
Tim Ristow: Yeah we, uh, when I went back and wrote, you know, started writing about it, went back to kind of check the time, we – it was a blur to us at the time, but to look back, and see how much time really did we have –
Tracy Ristow: The phone records –
Tim Ristow: Yeah, we looked at phone records, looked at when Tracy had called 911, the time of that, and then you know, on the way out, called her mom, so we used that as a gauge to really, use that as a gauge, to really judge how much time did we have and as it turned out it was, you know, no more than, than 6 minutes. It might have even been slightly less, but we had basically six minutes from the time we called 911… to get out.
KUT News: What did you grab?
M. Ristow: I grabbed my Legos and –
B. Ristow: I grabbed all my stuffed animals!
Tim Ristow: You have a little story about that, Ben. Do you want to tell about how that came –
B. Ristow: I grabbed my little lamb and her name is Lovey.
Tim Ristow: Yeah we, it was, it was frantic time. We just had to kind of grabbed whatever, and, you know, you always think before you’re in that situation that if there’s ever a fire, we’re going to do this, you know, we’re going to do A, B and C. From our experience being in it, you know, none of that comes to mind. Especially when you’re under a time pressure, and it was just frantic. It was grabbing what we could, and, you know, the saving of your family is paramount, but you still want to grab something, and of course we didn’t know were going to have six minutes, so it was grabbing. Tracy grabbed books, I grabbed our home computer, because it had our tax information on it, my video work stuff on it, grabbed my video camera – Its for my business, for my livelihood I grabbed that, grabbed some of those basic things, and the boys grabbed, bravely grabbed some toys and were able to keep calm through that process, and it was just franticly grab what you can and before you know it, you just gotta go. We had the sherriff driving up and down the road yelling over the loud speaker, “Don’t save anything, the fire’s right there, just go.” And you’ve got that going on and you’re running in and out of the house and I had seen the fire, so I knew how close it was. You just go into kinda flight mode, you know. Get what you can and get out.
KUT News: Was the fire just on the other side of the easement?
Tim Ristow: It was, the easement –
KUT News: And did you see it move, onto your property?
Tim Ristow: Not actually onto our property, the property next to ours, but, yeah. I had kind of – go back – when I had first saw the fire, and then run back to the house to tell Tracy, she dialed 911, I ran back to the easement just to check on the progress, and that time that was maybe you know less than 30 seconds time to do that, in that time the fire had gone from being on that other property across the easement to crossing the easement and it was heading into our neighbor’s yard, so you know that matter of time, the wind was just blowing it, and I remember seeing those flames as I crossed the easement, and they just reminded me of these giant angled shark teeth, and I don’t know why that came to mind, but it was just kind of the image that struck me when I saw that, and, and I was amazed that it had crossed so quickly, and that it was staring into our neighbor’s yard already, it, it, it – I didn’t expect that kind of a speed out of it.
KUT News: And this is your side neighbor? The neighbor to your side?
Tim Ristow: Correct, to the south.
KUT News: The one who warned you?
Tim Ristow: No actually other, the neighbor on the other side of us. And then, of course, as we were driving out of the neighborhood, down our street there, passing a neighbor about 3 or 4 houses down, as we passed by his house we could see the flames literally at the back of his house. It, it was moving very quickly, and you know, another five, ten minutes at the most, probably 5 minutes, we could have been trapped, because what we didn’t know at the time was that the route out the other way was most likely already blocked because that’s where one of the flash points was.
KUT News: Oh my goodness, so when you saw the smoke, y’all turned around, went the other way and were able to get out?
Tim Ristow: Yes. And the sheriff was kind of directing us too, because he kept driving up and down our street, and was pointing which way for us to go, so he indicated which we way should go, and as we were driving, driving out we, we saw him on the way out, and I wave to him to indicate, yeah, we we’re fine, we’re heading out, acknowledge our safety. And we made it out, and we didn’t realize then either how far, how far it had gotten, and we started to head out one of the other routes that we normally take out of our neighborhood and that was also, also blocked by policeman so we couldn’t go that way so we had to take a whole ‘nother way to kind of exit, get out.
KUT News: Your third alternate – your third route.
Tim Ristow: Another, yeah.
KUT News: So what happened next? I mean, were there a bunch of cars fleeing? You weren’t the only ones. The sheriff was going up and down –
Tim Ristow: Right.
Tracy Ristow: It was a lot bigger than we thought. I mean, we just saw it past our easement, and when we went down Pine Path, the way we were directed to go, we came out to 1441. We looked to the left, which was the way we were going to go, we just saw the huge ball of black smoke, and then we realized, oh my gosh, this is way bigger than we ever thought it was. And I was like, we just have to go the other way, I just don’t want to get trapped with the boys, and so we went the other way. And all these other cars are gathered at the volunteer fire department, which is right out of 1441, and nobody knew what to do, and we were just like, “Where do we go? What do we do? What’s going on?” And, we just decided to keep going so we didn’t get trapped. And went down to 95 and headed to my parents’ house near Giddings.
M. Ristow: And when we were in the house I was like, “What’s going on?” And then when, out Ben’s window I saw all the fire.
KUT News: And, and could you see it from your window – you could see it from your window?
M. Ristow: Uh-huh, my brother’s window.
Tracy Ristow: From the truck, yes. From the truck window. From the truck window when we were driving out.
Tim Ristow: Truck window, when we were leaving, yeah.
Tracy Ristow: Not the window in the house, but…
Tim Ristow: Well, there was a point, yeah, when we were in the, in the house amidst the, kind of the chaos of that trying to get, get things and load up in the trucks and get out… and the boys just standing there, and I realized we’d kinda been in such chaos mode running around trying to figure out what to grab, and the boys were just standing there in the middle of the living room as I came back in on one trip, and I saw them there and they were looking out and I realized they could see out the back windows of the house for the first time the fire was visible. You could see the flames there in the distance you could see the smoke starting to rise. And I just saw them kind of glazed eyed staring at it, and I realized that was their first view of the reality of it, and they started to break down a little bit and cry, and, and kneeled down next to them, put my arm around them and said, “You know we’re going to be alright. God is with us, and we’re going to be fine through this, just, get some toys that you want, head out to the, head out to the truck, load stuff up, we’ll meet there and we’ll get out.” And you know what I’m so proud of these boys they, they took to that right away and –
M. Ristow: And we didn’t die!
KUT News: That’s right!
Tim Ristow: That’s right. We made it out safe and sound and they, they really were little troopers, not a tear after that. They just took to their tasks.
B. Ristow: And we weren’t little spickles like black smoke!
KUT News: I bet you saw a lot of that didn’t you?
Tim Ristow: Yeah. So then it was just, you know, heading out from there, really focusing on that, and, you know. That wind that day too, I keep thinking about that, and it was just – and I wrote this in my blog too but – yeah, that windy day, that for us was always such a wonderful sound that wind rushing through the tops of those tall loblolly pines. We loved that sound out there. It was such a calm, pretty, soothing sound for us. And even, even that day it was just great napping weather, we love this, but there was that kind of intensity with it. It just seemed to peak every once and a while and, you know, your heart skipped a beat once in a while. Does that mean, you know, one of our pines is going to come crashing down? It was such a dry summer, so that was in the backs of our minds, but not really expecting a fire. And so suddenly that sound of the wind once we realized, it was pushing this fire onward, which was once something so, so sweet and beautiful. Suddenly that sound of the wind became something very startling and fearful.
KUT News: And I’m sure at that point you didn’t notice any change in the sound of the wind once the fire got close you I’m sure that –
Tim Ristow: No that’s the other interesting thing about the sound. In fact, when I went back to the easement, it wasn’t what I expected. It was so quiet the sound, you know, of – fire doesn’t make much sound even if, with an entire, that entire back property engulfed in flames, at least at that point, there wasn’t a lot of, a lot of sound, it was just eerily… quiet. You know the occasional little snap or pop, but nothing, not at all what I expected.
KUT News: Not roaring? Just silent?
Tim Ristow: Just very quiet and –
Tracy Ristow: Our neighborhood was quiet because a lot of people were out of town –
Tim Ristow: Right.
Tracy Ristow: And we didn’t see a lot activity until we got out to 1441.
Tim Ristow: Exactly.
Tracy Ristow: And that’s where all the cars were stopped and trying to figure out which way to go and what’s going on.
Tim Ristow: Yeah, that was a scene of chaos. There – definitely getting, getting to the volunteer department entrance there, and as we, as we were evacuating, and pulled up there in front of the volunteer fire department just then, I don’t think it was the fire chief, but one of the – might have been the fire chief, vehicles was just pulling up at that time. They were just arriving, and we realized at that point, at least that’s one of the things – first thought that ran through my mind was, “Oh, wow, they’re just now getting here,” and that the fire was virtually at the back of our property. I thought, “There’s no way, there’s no way they’re going to get” – and then after we had seen the, the you know black smoke, and how large that whole cloud of smoke was – “There’s no way they’re going to, there going to make our property in time,” um –
Tracy Ristow: We pretty much knew we weren’t coming back to a house.
Tim Ristow: Yeah, even, even that early on we thought, wow.
KUT News: Did you?
Tim Ristow: Yeah.
KUT News: And you, you don’t have fire hydrants in the country do you? Or did you?
Tracy Ristow: There is one at the corner of Pine Path and 1441 but that’s nowhere near our house.
Tim Ristow: Quite far, it would take a mighty long fire hose. But, yeah it was just kind of that feeling right away of – and, and the more we learned about how big the fire was, the more we realized there’s, there’s so many areas to work on, there’s no way they, that they’d get to our house in time. So there was that, there was that inking defiantly, definitely.
KUT News: So what happened next? You took – you were able to get out the third route, got you out of the neighborhood –
Tim Ristow: Yeah took the long way out, headed through Elgin, and, you know, our first thought was to head towards Tracy’s parents in – near Giddings and Hills and… and just stop there and kind of collect ourselves and figure out what to do next. And that’s where we headed and, Gene and Karen Maddiot, Tracy’s parents, they took us in without a second thought at all. And I still remember Gene telling us, I think that evening, y’all are welcome to stay as long as you want or need to, and so we immediately felt taken in and, and cared for and knew that we had a place even though we didn’t know how long and what was going to happen next. So that was it, and then we were really kind of monitoring [the fire] through Facebook especially.
Tracy Ristow: Mainly through Facebook. That’s where we got most of our up to date information.
Tim Ristow: And that was a huge resource for us, whether it be through, through fireman that were on the field posting, posting pictures or you know
Tracy Ristow: Structures lost that they had confirmed –
Tim Ristow: That’s right.
Tracy Ristow: – throughout the night, it was amazing
Tim Ristow: Yeah, that really, provided us something – I never had been really big on social networking until then. I started to really realize the value of – in situations like this in particular, where it just became a lifeline for us to keep up with what was going on.
And then that evening, that Sunday evening, we were a little restless. We found some things out, but were really kind of curious as to what was going on and we decided to head back to see if we could get into the house or not so we left Ben and Matthew in the care of, of –
KUT News: Grandma and grandpa?
Tim Ristow: Grandma and grandpa, that’s right. And headed back to see if we could get into the house. And we got a couple miles from the house on Highway 21, and ran into a National Guard blockade there, and, talked with a nice young lady that was part of the National Guard. And, but the most, I think, impactful thing about that evening was as we drove up and came over the hill, you know, it was dark at this point. We could just see the orange glow in the sky over our entire neighborhood. You know, it wasn’t just a small glow. It just covered that whole area.
Tracy Ristow: Yeah, the whole neighborhood was on fire and the National Guard said, “You can’t get past this barricade unless you can rescue horses or animals,” – that’s what they were focusing on at that point. They had gotten people out and now they needed to get back in and, and do animal rescue so she said, “Unless you have a horse trailer or something that can help us do that you’re not – you can’t come in.”
KUT News: So you went home, I bet – that must have been frustrating but did you really expect to get back in?
Tim Ristow: No.
Tracy Ristow: No, we didn’t. We just were kind of, you know, we wanted to see if it had been contained at all, or how far it had gone at that point.
Tim Ristow: Yes, we had no idea it was still going to be you know, ongoing. You know the fire would be continuing as much as it was –
Tracy Ristow: For three days.
Tim Ristow: So we just thought well, you know, what could we see? And, and that orange glow in sky, just, for us, was kind of a… again the first moment was when we were evacuating, we realized probably not going to come back to a house, but that evening, then, seeing that overwhelming glow in the sky just further made us realize how widespread this fire was, how big it was. I knew at that point for sure we weren’t coming back to a home when I saw the massiveness of it. If I had had any doubts after leaving they were definitely extinguished at that point.
KUT News: How’d that feel?
Tim Ristow: It was painful. Tracy broke down. I had tears in my eyes. It was just the realization sitting there at that blockade, stopped, staring out at the night sky with the orange glow and just realizing, its, its gone. And yet after that moment, coming to the realization that, we’re alive, you know.
Tracy Ristow: We got out.
Tim Ristow: We were thankful to be, to be out and hoping that everyone else did too, not knowing all the details of that either.
KUT News: That’s, that’s got to be so hard as well. So how long did you – when were you able to get back I, how many days later – I know we can’t go on and on forever y’all have been so great.
KUT News: Boys I can’t even believe how quiet you’re being. Thank you so much.
Tim Ristow: Well, let’s see, I guess it was –
Tracy Ristow: Tuesday.
Tim Ristow: Tuesday! We stayed at Tracy’s parents all day Monday pretty much, or at least in the Giddings area all day Monday, but by Tuesday we were starting to get a little antsy again, despite having some connections, you know, through Facebook and elsewhere with what was going on. We still felt very removed from Bastrop. We knew there were a lot of people living in shelters in Bastrop. You know, people collecting together, probably talking and sharing their stories, and we suddenly felt even though we were very safe, we felt a bit removed from the community. We wanted to go back and touch base with that somehow, so, we headed back towards Bastrop, and we retraced our evacuation route so we came back through Elgin and Highway 21 was still blocked off so we couldn’t go that way, and we passed 1441, which headed towards our house, and, as we were approaching I realized there was no blockades or anything there and I thought, “Well, Tracy, let’s, let’s head down and let’s just see, again, what we can see. I’m sure we’ll run into a blockade, but let’s see how far we can go.” And we kept driving and driving down there and there was no blockades. There was no signs of the fire. We didn’t see anything. Got out back to the volunteer fire department, where we had stopped on the way out, and again we had heard Internet rumors of that the fire had come right up to the back of that. There were no signs of that. And shortly after that we ran into the first blockade and the patrolman was there, and they were just swapping out officers so they had us wait for a second by the side of the road. And as the new officer came on duty he said, “Sir, do you all live here?” I said, “Yes, we do,” gave him our address, and, he gave us this whole list of, “Okay, you can go into your property, but don’t go all the way out to 21. Do not go here, do not go there –” I said, “That’s fine. We just want to see our property.” He said, “Go. Go check on the property and get out.” So we did – we headed down the road, and again, there was a few sign here and there, but up until we really turned onto Pine Path, there wasn’t a ton of things visible at that point, some trees and the like, but I think it was still fairly sparse from that angle. But as we turned onto Pine Path there were definite signs there, and as we drove down the road we saw some houses still –
Tracy Ristow: – standing and I got my hopes up.
Tim Ristow: Yeah, and we drove farther, and at one point, suddenly, the landscape just changed dramatically. It went to where it wasn’t just singed trees here and there to where the trees were blackened and the ground was –
Tracy Ristow: – like a war zone.
Tim Ristow: Yes, it was very much like a war zone, from what I imagined. Blackened trees, every blade of grass, every bush, every green bit of vegetation, completely burned away, leaving just sticks, and blackened ground or gray ash. And as we came up to our street, it got even more dramatically worse, and then there was just this, that gray ash was just hanging in the air almost, like a, almost like a strange kind of snow. The ground, there were holes in the ground that were smoking from where stumps or trees had burned away all the way down to the roots, had burned away completely.
KUT News: And so what happened? What happened as you were getting closer, when you –
Tim Ristow: As we were close to the house?
KUT News: Or when you saw your house.
Tim Ristow: Saw the house. Yeah, well, we approached, and again with that ash in the air it was hard to see, and it was hard to even figure out where we were on the road. We were used to looking for landmarks, and we didn’t have some of those familiar landmarks of other people houses. Houses were flattened.
Tracy Ristow: – and we saw metal roofs just on the ground all twisted up.
Tim Ristow: Crumpled.
Tracy Ristow: That used to be our neighbors homes.
Tim Ristow: And Tracy and I don’t remember if you said something like, you know, “Where is our house or –”
Tracy Ristow: Yeah. Well you said, “There it is. It’s gone.” And I said, “Where?” because I didn’t even recognize it. He goes, “Look there,” because we had that hexagon window.
Tim Ristow: That octagon window.
Tracy Ristow: Oh, the octagon.
Tim Ristow: That was still – that part of the brick wall was still…
Tracy Ristow: Still there.
Tim Ristow: There, and we could see that, but you know portions of half walls, of the brick walls were standing, but it was, it was gone. The garage door just bent and melted and folded in on itself, and just the ash and everything that we owned was just gone, you know. And metal things sticking up, and portions of brick walls, but beyond that, just the realization that – wow – that fire just, wiped through there and twisted and burned and melted everything. And it just was, it was quite a sight, you know, especially coming back like we did on Tuesday – the fire was Sunday. To leave your house intact, and come back a couple days later, and see it just completely different – it’s heart wrenching, and it puts your mind in kind of this state of state of shock. You know, it’s just things you have to always remember, but you’re not used to leaving your home one way and coming back to it so vastly changed.
Tracy Ristow: Just to see the destruction that a wildfire really does – you see it on TV, but you don’t see it, usually, in person. And just to see the damage that it does, just with ripping through a neighborhood is just amazing.
Tim Ristow: What do you want to say Ben?
B. Ristow: And it stinks there. It smells, so we put nose things on. And gloves! To touch everything.
Tim Ristow: That’s right. That’s a good point.
B. Ristow: And tools!
Tim Ristow: Yeah. That, that first time that we came back, Tracy and I there, you know, even stepping out of the truck for the first time, walking across, like Tracy described, kind of this war zone area, we had this distinct feeling, we shouldn’t really be there you know. We didn’t have masks with us at that point, we were just there walking around and yeah the, probably the chemicals in the air all the – you know.
Tracy Ristow: And stuff was still smoldering, there were branches on the ground that were still on fire. And down power lines that we were walking around and, it’s like, we probably should not be here, but we needed to be there to confirm everything and…
KUT News: So then you went back and you told the news to your family?
Tim Ristow: Yes.
Tracy Ristow: Yeah.
Tim Ristow: We went back to Giddings, I guess, after that, and yeah, we kind of told everybody…
KUT News: You told your boys?
Tracy Ristow: Yeah.
Tim Ristow: A little bit.
Tracy Ristow: I think we had already been prepping them already, that we were probably not going home to the house that we had lived in.
Tim Ristow: Right.
Tracy Ristow: So I think they knew, that things were about to change… so, but we didn’t let them see it for a couple weeks. I think before we took them back or a week and a half.
Tim Ristow: Number one we had the concern of course –
Tracy Ristow: Environmental.
Tim Ristow: The environmental issues out there, so we didn’t want to take them back in there with or without masks, and just, the emotional aspect of it too, just letting a little time lapse before coming back in, and by that point in time they handled it, I think, really well.
Tracy Ristow: Yeah, they have.
KUT News: And so you did you go out, you said you went out with masks and gloves and, to help clean up?
Tracy Ristow: Boys?
Tim Ristow: Can you talk about that a little bit?
M. Ristow: Okay, you go first, Ben.
B. Ristow: We got to go out and help shovel and pick up all the bricks and put them in the pipe.
M. Ristow: And one of our tools broke and also –
Tim Ristow: Well, talk a little bit about when we were sifting through the ash and what types of things –
M. Ristow: And we found glass and nails. Um, my dad stepped on a nail.
B. Ristow: We found a paperclip.
Tracy Ristow: And what about your marbles?
B. Ristow: Olivia, my cousin, found all my marbles.
M. Ristow: And also we found our scarecrow.
B. Ristow: They looked, some of my marbles looked a little dirty and some were really clean.
Tim Ristow: What did you think when you found them? Were you excited?
B. Ristow: Mm-hm.
M. Ristow: Let’s think about the old stuff we had are …
B. Ristow: Oh! Yes! I remember I had that big bunny carrying his little bunny, baby bunny.
Tim Ristow: Do you miss some of your things?
B. Ristow: Yes.
M. Ristow: I miss my action figures, star wars action figures.
Tim Ristow: What do you miss most Ben?
B. Ristow: I miss the animals, stuffed animals that I didn’t get out.
KUT News: What animals were those? Do you remember their names?
B. Ristow: I didn’t have that names for them, but like one was a little doggie and one was a black bear.
Tim Ristow: What about your owl?
M. Ristow: I had a owl.
Tim Ristow: Oh, okay, you got that owl.
M. Ristow: I had a owl pet.
Tracy Ristow: Did you want to tell her about the cross?
Tim Ristow: Oh sure. Oh yes.
Tracy Ristow: On Tuesday when we were at –
Tim Ristow: Yeah, that, that first day back, Tracy and I had just stepped out of truck, and were kind of dazedly walking around this, completely changed landscape, and Tracy had wandered around the side and to the back, and then I was kind of following a bit behind her, and to the side of the house I caught sight of this blue object there amidst the, you know, just stood out amidst the gray ash and caught my eye. I glanced over and I stepped over some of the brick carefully, and it was a blue ceramic cross that we had hanging above our kitchen window. It had been one of three crosses, a set of three crosses that hung above there, and it was the only one we ever found, and written on the cross was the word “blessed,” and that was the only thing we found –
Tracy Ristow: That day.
Tim Ristow: That day, and really the only thing we found –
Tracy Ristow: – that intact.
Tim Ristow: Intact, that really, I mean we’ve kept some things that are just totally disheveled –
Tracy Ristow: – discolored and –
Tim Ristow: Yeah, more so, and just, we’ll probably end up getting rid of most of those. And, but, this cross, other than a slight chipping on the corner, was just totally intact, and we, we came away from that going, “You know, there’s, there’s our message.” I mean to just find that, you know the – people often find ceramic things after fires, as they tend to survive, and we found a few other things, a nativity, but yeah, discolored and broken – this one remained intact, and for us, we came away with that: “That’s our message. We’re blessed to be alive, we’re blessed we made it out, we’re blessed by our neighbor Daniel who came to save us.” We’re blessed by now, today, getting to know our neighbors better after the fire than we did before.
Tracy Ristow: We’re blessed by the generosity that was shown to us afterwards.
Tim Ristow: Oh yes, everybody that’s –
Tracy Ristow: The whole community, and friends and family and people we don’t even know.
Tim Ristow: We’re blessed by a whole new changed perspective on this. We want to do the same to help others in the future, it just – so many ways that word has ended up applying for us. I was touched by that moment, will never forget finding that because it’s definitely that dividing line. You know, the fire certainly was, but finding that cross was almost as important as the fire, if not more so. Because, you know, we felt that it was God’s message touching us, saying, “Just remember, you know you are blessed. I am taking care of you. I got you in my hands,” and that been proven to us every moment since.
KUT News: So a couple things I’ll go back to, so what happened – so how long where you – so what happened – did you stay at your folk’s house? For how long? What came? What’s the transition? Where are you living now?
Tracy Ristow: Well, we stayed at my parents’ house for about three weeks. And then we decided that we needed to get our little family back into a home together, and so our insurance company set us up temporarily in a rental home in Austin, and furnished it, and, its been great because it’s nice to be back in Austin. We now have met great neighbors in this new community where kind of, you know – we were in the country for 10 years and now we’re back in the city, where we were before we went to Bastrop. It’s nice to, to share Austin with our boys now and see it from a child’s perspective and, and be in a, a suburb, I guess, so now we’re deciding, you know, what do we do? Do we rebuild on land, where we don’t know what’s going to happen with the environment, and with the neighbors? Who all is coming back? Who – you know, its kind of a 50-50 thing right now, 50 percent are staying and about 50 percent have already left. Or do we take this opportunity as an opportunity and move back to Austin and start over here? So we’re kind of in flux right now. And when you deal with insurance, they want you to hurry up and decide what you’re doing, and so we feel like we need to start making that decision. We’ve enjoyed being back and the city and the boys love it too.
B. Ristow: I love Austin!
KUT News: I’m glad you do.
Tim Ristow: And last year was such a blur for us, you know, you think, “Oh okay,” you know, “a matter of weeks or something, we’re going to get over this and try and, try and get on,” and certain— you know, there’s always stages, you kind of – the grieving process, I guess, you know, that you, that you go through and I thought initially it would be much quicker. That we’d be able to go with things much quicker, and I’ve learned a lot about the process, learned a lot about myself, about, you know, our family and moving through that process and seeing our neighbors and others there in Bastrop – how, you know, it’s different for everybody too. But last year was definitely, 2011 from September through December and into early January, was a pretty much a blur, it was getting past that emotionalism, dealing with a lot of the early clean up stuff out at the property, and trying to move forward though things, through the insurance things, through the thought process. And I think it was about October or so of 2011, we finally deiced we just needed to allow ourselves to the new calendar year before we really get serious about even thinking about what to do. I think it was someone at our church that mentioned you should, you should just wait until then, allow yourself some time and we thought about that, and “Yeah, let’s, let’s do that,” so it was really until January before we started to start, before we stared getting serious about saying, “Let’s talk about what do we want to do.” And now, you know, I think we’re past, for the most part, a lot of the emotionalism of it. We’re able to deal a little but more, directly, and more focused with what our future is, and we don’t have a real clear answer yet – but yeah, we do, we do love being back in Austin, and we even refer to the rental house we are in right now as the healing house because it really has been a place where we’ve been able to rediscover what is home. And, you know, when you’ve lost your home abruptly with all the memories that we’ve had tied to it, our kids born and grew up in that house, our early marriage memories in that house, it just was a starter home for us, for so many memories and so many wonderful things in Bastrop, so learning to have to part with that, and realizing that home isn’t just a place, you know, it’s family. It’s family that loves each other, coming together and making the house a home wherever that may be. And this rental home has certainly been a healing home for us to help do that, and help us move on and move forward. And just remember that we’re, we are blessed.
KUT News: Well, thank you so much for your story. You know, it does, it – I’m sure you’re still processing, my goodness, you’ve got to still be, still be processing. How lucky for you to have found a place that you like, you know?
Tracy Ristow: It worked out.
KUT News: The transition has been you know, as, good as it could be I guess.
Tim Ristow: Right. It’s been a long one, that’s for sure, and it’s not over yet.
M. Ristow: One more question. We brought our kitchen to our home –
Tim Ristow: You silly.
KUT News: You did?
(Exchange with children)
KUT News: So who’s animal was Lovey? Ben’s? Who gave you Lovey?
B. Ristow: My, um, one of my grandmas and grandpas.
Tracy Ristow: No. Dave and Linda, uncle and aunt.
B. Ristow: My uncle and aunt.
KUT News: And when you were thinking about what you needed to, hurry up and get out of the house, was that the first thing that came to your mind? How come?
B. Ristow: Mmmmm ‘cause I just needed to get stuff out?
KUT News: But you thought of Lovey first.
Tim Ristow: Why Lovey?
B. Ristow: Cause she’s my favorite animal.
Tim Ristow: Can you say that again, “Lovey is my…”
B. Ristow: Cause she’s my favorite animal.
Tim Ristow: Can you say Lovey’s name?
B. Ristow: Lovey is my favorite animal.
M. Ristow: And he’s Lovey the Lamb.
KUT News: And you did not want Lovey to be left behind. So I bet you still have Lovey somewhere don’t you?
B. Ristow: In our rental home!
KUT News: Do you sleep with Lovey?
B. Ristow: Yes.
KUT News: Lovey is so happy to be with you, I know, I just know. I – so boys how do you feel about all of this?
B. Ristow: Sad.
M. Ristow: Sad.
KUT News: How come, how come you’re sad?
M. Ristow: Because our toys are gone.
KUT News: Can you say I feel sad because –
M. Ristow: I feel sad because all my toys are gone.
B. Ristow: I feel sad ‘cause we lost our house.
KUT News: And have you been a really help to your mom and dad?
M. Ristow: Uh-huh.
B. Ristow: Yes.
KUT News: I know you have so, but your liking Austin. I’m so glad to hear that. Are you able to see any of your friends from Bastrop, Circle D?
B. Ristow: Yes, I get to see my friends a lot.
KUT News: Oh good! I’m glad.
Tim Ristow: When do you see them?
B. Ristow: Well I go to PE and see them. I go to Scouts, and sometimes they come to our house.
KUT News: Good, good, good, good, so you’re not leaving your old neighborhood behind, your still getting to, to, to, see your friends? And do you go out there much?
Tracy Ristow: Yeah, we’re out there once or twice a week.
Tim Ristow: Yeah.
Tracy Ristow: We’re still working on the property, clearing it. And like Ben said, he’s involved in a PE class out there on Mondays and Cub Scouts, and we didn’t want to pull them out of the things that they were accustom to, and their friends, and so we continue to go out there at least twice, probably, a week.
Tim Ristow: Yeah, often times twice a week, we take them out there on Mondays for their PE class, then they got three hours there for that, and I’ll go out to the property and clean, and then come back and pick them up, so it’s a good time to kind of connect and to connect with their friends in the community, and for us, kind of, keeping, yeah, keeping going on the property.
Tracy Ristow: – with our neighbors, seeing what the latest is –
Tim Ristow: Our neighbors, and Daniel and I, I think, are really good friends now, you know he, he literally saved our family’s lives, I think, we’re, we’re not even sure whether we would have heard the sheriffs, you know, had we been asleep still in the house, or dozing or what have you. Would we necessarily have heard the sheriffs call? Maybe he would have come to the door. I don’t know, its all kind of conjecture. What we do know is that Daniel came, pounded on the door, to make sure that we knew it was a fire and got out. We stayed bonded after that. We hardly talked in the 10 years that we lived out there before that and now, every week, you know, at least once a week, I see him and talk with him, and he always asks, “How’s Tracy? How are the boys? How’s the family doing? Tell the family I said, ‘Hi.’ We need to get together, and, you know, have dinner.” We haven’t done that yet, but we need to, we need to do that. There’s a connection there, and a bond there, that we didn’t have before that we’ve got now and its-
Tracy Ristow: And I just think that’s because when you live, you know, if the country, when you’re on an acre lots people are pretty reclusive. They keep to themselves, and we just happened to be in an area that did that, you know, you didn’t bother your neighbors, they didn’t bother you. You know it was quiet, you know people came and, and went and –
Tim Ristow: And a lot of commuters out there so everybody spends a lot of their time commuting to Austin, so when you’re home, you’re kind of relaxing or spending time with your family and, you know, enjoying your yard or what have you. So this changed everybody’s perspective I think, certainly in our neighborhood. We know several of our neighbors now, and this just it to see the wall come down, you know, on a number of levels, you know, the fire took the brick walls and the stucco walls and what have you down, but you know, it also took down some of walls between people that were in our community, and we’re certainly seeing signs of that in our neighborhood and for us personally, with our, with our neighbors, and that that’s worth a lot to me to see those connections opening up making new friends.
KUT News: Thanks you so much. Okay I am going to give – Ben, you want to tell your story quickly about – What would you like to add or say about your story about this event?
Tim Ristow: Is there anything you missed in particular about the property? Anything that you enjoyed out there?
B. Ristow: Our yard.
KUT News: What about it?
B. Ristow: We got to play in it, and we had a little bridge and now a tree fell in the bridge so its gone. And we loved the oak tree and our oak tree had a tire swing on it, but the fire burned the tire swing.
Tracy Ristow: Our yard in Austin is not quite as big.
KUT News: Boy, those oak trees with tire swings, I know what you mean.
Tim Ristow: That was a fun memory growing up, pushing both the boys on that. What did we learn out of all of this, Ben, is there anything that you think we’ve learned as a family? That you’ve learned personally?
Tracy Ristow: Matthew?
M. Ristow: What?
KUT News: You want to say anything?
M. Ristow: Wmm let’s see. Oh, the yard, I mean no, no – My room. We, we had a bunk bed. And also toys and one small closet, two small bathrooms, a big kitchen and…
Tim Ristow: What did you love the most about our Bastrop house or the, or the yard?
M. Ristow: The best of our house is the paints in our room.
Tracy Ristow: Oh the drawings, the paintings you had done on the wall?
M. Ristow: Since they looked like baby paintings
KUT News: You can make some more can’t you?
M. Ristow: Mm-hm.
KUT News: Yeah, well anything else you’d like to add?
M. Ristow: Nope, that’s good.
KUT News: Are we done?
M. Ristow: Yes
B. Ristow: Yes! We’re done.
KUT News: Okay well let me get you saying your name again Tim and Tracy so we have it
Tim Ristow: I’m Tim Ristow,
Tracy Ristow: I’m Tracy Ristow
KUT News: And can you also say where you lived in Bastrop?
Tim Ristow: I’m Tim Ristow and we lived in circle D in Bastrop
Tracy Ristow: I’m Tracy Ristow and we lived in circle D in Bastrop
KUT News: Do you want to explain anything about circle D before we- why did you move out there?
Tim Ristow: Oh good. That’s a good one. We moved to Bastrop as newlyweds pretty much, and because – well a number of reasons. One, it was such a quiet peaceful community. We were really drawn to that when we first were looking at homes out there, and we drove up with the realtor to that house. It just had a very great draw to it, and it was this small starter home, and it was surrounded by these tall loblolly pines, and that breeze that I spoke about earlier was, I think, one of the first sounds that we heard when we stepped out that first day that we looked at it. And so, it had, you know, this house centered there, on the property and beautiful trees surrounding it. And, you know, every time our family came, our friends came out there, it had kind of kind of that wow factor: you step out and – wow, you know – just gorgeous and beautiful. So you know, we were drawn to that, as well as, you know, home prices were cheaper in Bastrop than Austin. We were starting out with our family. We needed something that was affordable and workable, and we were close to Tracy’s parents as well. So all of that really drew us out there, you know, and, and truth be told, we were probably starting to outgrow the house anyway, so some of the changes aren’t so bad. Have the opportunity to upgrade a bit, but yeah, we were definitely drawn to the area and Bastrop being a small town we kind of wanted to start with, start with that too. And a beautiful community, state park which of course, you know, 95 percent of that was burned away, but that was a big draw for us, you know, just that country atmosphere having some country charm elements to it really drew us out there.
KUT News: I bet you learned about pine trees. I mean, you don’t get pine trees in Austin, I don’t think, not often.
Tim Ristow: Yeah, and we learned a lot, and about these loblolly pines which grow in that sandy, you know, soil which we were really unfamiliar with. And so dealing with that and realizing how hard it was to, you know, grow grass under them – you really couldn’t grow grass very well because of that sandy soil and because of course the, the pines really didn’t facilitate that very well. We weren’t aware of scorpions are out there. When we first moved out there we discovered they like the sandy soil, too. So you know, moving into a house and finding, “Oh, we’ve got scorpions” – especially in the summertime, you know, they’re all these different, different things we had to learn to deal with when we first moved out there. A little more, a little more country than what we were used to and we learned to adapt, and you know, it was definitely a good starter home for us. Good memories, good community. And we are going to be following it to see how things come back, where it goes. We, for what’s it’s worth, we own our property out there now and, you know, we’re going to hang onto it for now and see what happens, in the, in the months and years ahead.
Tracy Ristow: We’ll probably rebuild something at some point.
Tim Ristow: Yeah, whether we come back and retire there, or, built a little, you know, weekend cabin or something like that, that might be a possibility for us, too.
Tracy Ristow: Just waiting to see what happens with the environment.
Tim Ristow: Right.
KUT News: Well there’s no better place than the woods for growing a family.
Tim Ristow: That’s right. It definitely was a good start for us.
KUT News: Well, thank you Ristow family.
Tracy Ristow: Thank you for having us.
Tim Ristow: Thanks so much.
B. Ristow: Thank you!
Tim Ristow: For the opportunity to share our story.