Austin
8:51 pm
Mon September 5, 2011

Bastrop Residents Look for Hope Amid Flames

A lot of people in Bastrop County were looking for signs of hope Labor Day, in the face of a 25,000 acre wildfire that tore through brush, trees, homes and anything else in its way.

Early Monday afternoon, people along Bastrop's West Chestnut Street trickled outside, unfolding patio chairs or grabbing sidewalk for a place to eat some lunch. Most of them were staring at menacing plumes of smoke in the not-too-distant sky. 

After a while, Pastor Guillermo Alvarez led his family and two members of his ministry up the sidewalk, not far from where police had closed Chestnut, to lead the group in prayer. As Alvarez softly spoke a prayer in Spanish, dry brush crunched beneath his sneakers. Smoke continued to billow into the sky, changing it from blue to shades of gray and back again. One member of the group, Oscar Villegas, pinched the bridge of his nose between his fingers and bowed his head. Soon, tears came from his tightly shut eyes. He quickly brushed them away.

The group from Austin was visiting family in Bastrop County.  They came to pray that the family's home, in the cross-hairs of the growing fire, would still be standing after the smoke cleared.

After the prayer, Pastor Alvarez said in English, "Only God can stop this now."

Along Highway 71 further to the east, Ted Killough sat in the cab of his pickup, his suitcase beside him. He peered at the smoke coating the sky over Bastrop State Park, watching helicopters making water drops on the fire. He was evacuated from his home in Tahitian Village, a community of 2,000 people just south of the park, around 1:00 Monday afternoon.

By 2:30, he was just hoping the smoke would dissipate, before he turned his truck back onto the high and headed for Austin.

"I got insurance," he said. "What else can you do?"