Thursday, April 21, 2011

The Winds of Change Leave West Texans on Pins and Needles

By Anita Foster, American Red Cross worker assigned to the West Texas Wildfires

Texans are a resilient people, but even they’re reeling from a series of never-ending wildfires that have destroyed more than 150 homes, scorched at least one million acres and claimed the life of a volunteer firefighter in Eastland County. And they know that the fires are not close to being contained—and there’s not a drop of rain in the forecast.

Each day brings with it its own set of challenges. Just yesterday, our team was in a small town near Palo Pinto, Texas. We could see the fire burning on the other side of the hill. We knew it was close. Firefighters and State Troopers patrolled the streets alerting residents that they had one hour to pack up and get out because the fire was coming right at them. The residents were told to take the things that really mattered to them because they wouldn’t likely have a home upon their return.

Imagine being told that you have one hour to pack up your life. What would you take? The women grabbed the wedding albums, baby pictures and important documents while the men caught the pets and secured the property. Cars were loaded down and without panic, everyone left the area.

Most of the folks went to stay with loved ones in neighboring towns, but a few did come to the Red Cross shelter in Graford, Texas. Cots and blankets were set up and ready to go but in an instant, the winds shifted and flames were heading toward Graford too.

Our team faced some precarious moments in Graford as the fire neared. Barely making it out in time, we were able to move our workers and shelter supplies up to a nearby town where a new shelter opened last night in the gymnasium of a junior high school.

As we begin our day this morning, we’re not certain yet if the people who left with one hour’s notice have a home or not because the winds are still blowing in that direction. But we’re hoping that the winds will change again soon, and for the better.

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