by Felicia De Innocentiis | Staff Writer
As white smoke billowed and fumed into the atmosphere on the afternoon of Monday, September 5, a burning scent disturbed senior Victoria Kahn-Salinas, along with the other occupants of her Stone Oak neighborhood.
“I was hanging out at a friend’s house when I heard about it,” Kahn-Salinas said.
An evacuation notice was made for nearby neighborhoods such as Summer Glen, which the fire could potentially reach. The evacuation was not a mandatory order, but a strong warning that many respectfully complied with. However, Kahn-Salinas’ family stayed in their home.
“My mom got all worried. She started watering the lawn to make sure, just in case the fire was a threat. We didn’t think it was going to be that bad,” Kahn-Salinas said.
Senior Brett Fairchild was also in the vicinity of the incoming fire.
“I was driving my dirt cart through the woods and I got a call that they were evacuating the streets ’cause the brushfire was getting close to the park and the neighborhood, and that’s where I happened to be,” Fairchild said.
The official cause of the Labor Day wildfire is reported to have been San Antonio Water System (SAWS) truck in a Stone Oak neighborhood, left to idle in the hot sun. The grass underneath caught on fire shortly thereafter.
“I could just watch the fire from the top of my house,” Fairchild said. “I thought it was just gonna be a small one. I didn’t realize it was going to spread that far.”
Although the Stone Oak fire was an unwanted surprise, no one was harmed and the fire was contained that evening. The magnitude of it was small in comparison to the earlier disaster in the nearby town of Bastrop, where wildfire destroyed 1,554 homes and burned countless acres of land.
“The principal of Bastrop High School, 10 teachers and over 300 students have lost everything; their houses, everything they own,” soccer coach and art teacher Kara Stracener said.
In order to help those who’ve lost their homes in Bastrop, a school-wide fundraiser is being held to provide food and care to the victims, all in the form of Wal-Mart and HEB gift cards. The relief effort will end on September 16.
“[Students] can contribute money or gift cards, and the money that’s turned in will be used to buy gift cards,” Stracener said.
The severity of these recent fires have made both students and teachers feel fortunate in light of so many losses.
“It just made me appreciative of what I have. [The victims in Bastrop] lost everything in an instant; it makes me appreciative of the everyday comforts we have and the clothes on our backs,” Stracener said.
Wildfires have wiped out a total of 1.4 million acres of Texas land, and burn bans have been placed on all but four counties. Students are to heed advice on fire safety during droughts.
“I think you should be careful if you barbecue or do anything that could cause a fire. Keep water handy,” Kahns-Salinas said.
Although students are aware of the potential hazards, the biggest safety advice is to use common sense.
“People don’t follow the rules, and there’s a burn ban. It’s dry. Somebody’s going to start a fire, somebody’s going to try and go have fun and it’s going to get out of control,” Fairchild said.