Energy and Environment Reporting for Texas

Forged in Flames: Fighting Fires With Buckets

Here’s how Labor Day weekend 2011 started for Matt Lara, a musician living in Spicewood, some forty miles outside of Austin.

“I was going to town to meet some friends for a beer – just a good Sunday, a day off – and walked outside, and the light in the yard, the sunlight, was just really strange; it was just too – there was something too orange about it, like all the blue had been cut out of it, and I thought, maybe I’ve been staring at a computer screen too long or something, my eyes are messed up.”

Then Lara smelled smoke.

“I realized that there was a fire and went ahead and drove out to 71. I see my neighbor on the right, and he’s kind of packing up … and I pull over and I call him and say, “Hey, Dave, I think there’s a fire,” and he said, “Yeah, there’s a big fire. You need to come home and pack up and get ready to get out of here.”

After evacuating his belongings, Lara joined a team of Spicewood residents in a bucket brigade, battling some smaller fires after a large one had passed through. “We went around the neighborhood just keeping a constant bucket brigade going all night,” Lara remembers, “just trying to find areas that we thought were going to catch fire again and travel back up through the neighborhood if we didn’t stay on them.”

Spicewood would continue to burn here and there until that Friday. “Some of these hot spots that you would find there would be tree roots burning under the ground, or piles of old leaves that had been under the ground that had just started burning, and would be down underneath there smoldering,” Lara remembers. “And then the wind would kick up and anytime that wind would kick up you knew that a hot spot would catch again. You kind of had to go around and start looking for those columns of smoke.”

In the video above, you can see and hear from Lara today, and you can read his full oral history over at KUT.org, part of our series on the Labor Day Wildfires, Forged in Flames.
Tonight at 7 p.m., KUT 90.5 FM in Austin will air a special one-hour documentary telling the story of the fires. It will air again Wednesday, Sept. 5 at 7 p.m. You can listen on air and online, and download the documentary here at StateImpact Texas.
On Monday, Sept. 10, KUT will host a “Forged in Flames” community listening session and forum at 6 p.m. in Studio 1A at the KUT Public Media Studios at the northeast corner of Guadalupe and Dean Keeton in Austin. 
Featured speakers will include Emily Donahue of KUT News; Mose Buchele, of StateImpact Texas; and Erin Purdy, of the Briscoe Center for American History. This forum is free and open to the public.


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