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June 16th

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Fire and Rain: LSS Disaster Response, Texas Wildfires

photo courtesy of Nancy Wood Miller

After seemingly endless days of hazy, smoke-filled horizons and the smell of fire in the air, there was a new and almost foreign smell in Central Texas this weekend—the smell of rain.  For plenty of folks around the country, they wish the rain would cease, go somewhere else.  But for us Texans, the sound, the feel, the smell of rain seems like a distant memory or something that we dreamed of one night long ago.  But then this weekend, it rained.  It wasn’t a gully-washer, flash flood-enducer or drought breaker, but a slow, easy, steady, soft rain.  I admit, I went outside and stood in it, breathing deeply in the damp, earthy smell that made everything around me feel alive again.  Just watching the raindrops hit and then roll down my arms produced a child-like, visceral joy in me.  Ah, rain, it does exist.  It will come again.

That beautiful rain did wonders to assist the firefighters in Bastrop County with their ongoing efforts to extinguish the Bastrop County Complex Fire, which is now reported as 95% contained.  Other wildfires in Central Texas continue to have hot spots, but are fully contained.  Survivors have been able to re-enter their neighborhoods to survey the damage and to begin to get a sense of what they will need for the way forward.  And that way forward can be a long and winding road.  Piecing one’s life back together after a disaster is a journey, one through which each disaster survivor must work to adjust to the “new normal” of the post wildfire world.  It is during this process of long-term recovery that agencies like LSSDR work to walk side-by-side with survivors, helping them to develop a personalized road-map so that they may successfully navigate that long and winding road to recovery.

As I ponder the beginning of the long-term recovery process for wildfire survivors, I keep coming back to something I learned from the emergency response personnel in both Bastrop and Spicewood, Texas last week—that roots of trees can burn underground.  I know, it sounds impossible, but it happens.  Firefighters across Central Texas have been dealing with flare-ups due to the roots of trees burning underground, weakening the stability of the trees, causing them to eventually fall over, thus letting the fire escape from the roots only to reignite a blaze.  This is a poignant analogy for what disaster survivors may experience throughout long-term recovery.  While all on the surface may seem to have calmed, there may be emotional, spiritual, and financial fires burning deep down that will flare-up at a moment’s notice due to the trauma of the disaster event and the stress of the recovery process.  Yes, people’s roots are burning.  And it is LSSDR and our partner agencies that plan to catch them as they fall and work with them to prevent those burning roots from spreading the fire.  Whether through emotional and spiritual care or long-term disaster case management, we strive to be that gentle, soothing, thirst-quenching rain that brings with it renewal, resilience and hope.

So, once again I ask you to please pray for rain.

Heather Neuroth Gatlin, MPA

Vice President of Disaster Response

Lutheran Social Services Disaster Response

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