BU families feel force of wildfire

A Baylor alumna sent in a photo of her family home in Magnolia, Texas where children and horses have been evacuated due to fires which have threatened much of central and southern Texas.
Rachel Gilbert | Contributor

By David McLain
Staff Writer

The worst recorded wildfire season in Texas reached into the homes of several Baylor students over the course of the Labor Day weekend.

More than 180 fires have erupted in the past week across the rain-starved Lone Star State, and nearly 1,000 of the homes destroyed since then were lost, killing four people in one catastrophic blaze in and around Bastrop, near Austin, that raged out of control Tuesday for a third day, The Associated Press reported.

Bastrop County, north of Austin, is experiencing the brunt of the blazes having lost 28,500 acres of land to the Bastrop County Complex fire, as the Texas Forest Service is calling it.

Spicewood senior Savannah Rudkin traveled home Sunday night to be with her mother in case they had to evacuate their home. Spicewood, just northwest of Austin, was threatened by a large wildfire that started this weekend.

Her father, a volunteer firefighter, got a call about the fire in Spicewood on the way back from Waco on Saturday after watching this Weekend’s football game.

Rudkin, a volunteer firefighter herself in the past, was in Waco on Sunday night when her mom called saying her father mentioned the possibility of evacuating their home.

“It was really shocking since my dad had been a firefighter for over 16 years and none of it has come anywhere near our house,” Rudkin said.

Inciweb.org, an incident information website that consolidates information from various government services, lists the Spicewood fire as 80 percent contained.

With the fire near Spicewood nearly abated, some of the local manpower is being sent to assist the firefighters in Bastrop County, Rudkin said.

Molly Rivers, a senior from Bastrop County, has family friends that were immensely affected by the Bastrop County Complex fire.

“They lost everything, their whole entire home in the fire,” Rivers said.

The family has three daughters and the father has been diagnosed with terminal cancer, Rivers said. “I have been asking my sorority for distributions of clothes and donations.”

Her local church has already started searching for temporary housing for the family, and she has received donations in Waco.

“This is a heartbreaking situation for this family and a lot of people didn’t even realize the fires were going on,” Rivers said. “But instead of giving stuff to Goodwill, I’m actually helping people I know.”

The effects of the fires could be seen without stepping off campus

Tuesday. A light haze dimmed the blue of the afternoon sky with the smell of smoke slightly in the air. Three fires have started in the area surrounding Waco since August 31, according to Inciweb.org. Two of those fires have damaged over 1,000 acres, with one still burning just 20 minutes east of Waco, near Mart, Texas.

A separate fire located across Montgomery, Waller, and Grimes counties northwest of Houston blazed across the front yard of the aunt of Baylor alumna Rachael Gilbert just outside of Magnolia, Texas. It nearly engulfed the evacuated farmhouse across the street as of yesterday evening. Gilbert’s aunt has not been allowed back yet to visit her home.

“They’re assuming that theirs is gone also, but they have no idea,”

Gilbert said. “Their area is still up in flames and they keep evacuating more and more neighborhoods.”

The neighbors across the street had evacuated their horses as well as their family.

“All of Magnolia has a lot of cattle, horses and barns,” Gilbert said.

“They were in an emergency asking for help to get all the horses out in a hurry yesterday.”

As the Spicewood fire slowly subsides the Bastrop and Montgomery counties continue to face the brunt of this summer’s Texas flames.