SMITHVILLE—With chainsaws and skid-steer loaders, Texas Baptist Men volunteers removed charred trees and debris from burned-out home sites in the Hidden Pines area in Bastrop County and sifted through ashes to help residents reclaim mementos that survived the blaze.
Meanwhile, other TBM disaster relief workers traveled to the Rio Grande Valley to shovel mud out of flooded homes in Weslaco, to Floresville to provide a portable shower unit to displaced people, and to San Marcos, Hondo and New Braunfels to assess needs in response to widespread flooding.
The Hidden Pines wildfire north and west of Smithville spread across more than 4,500 acres, destroying 66 homes, the Bastrop County emergency management office reported. In less than three weeks, TBM volunteers completed about 20 job requests from area residents.
When emergency management officials initially allowed residents to re-enter the burned-out area, TBM volunteers—including volunteer chaplains trained in critical incident stress management—were among the few outsiders granted access.
“It is a precious privilege for us to be allowed in,” said Henrietta Gentry, volunteer chaplain coordinator from First Baptist Church in Vidor. “We are present, just to let the people know we care about them.”
Some residents were reluctant to talk, but others were eager for someone to hear their story, she added. If they were open to conversation, chaplains let them know about the services TBM disaster relief volunteers could offer at no charge to them.
At first, she noted, some view any offers with suspicion, fearing scams. In time, however, some of the most skeptical disaster survivors become some of the most outspoken advocates for TBM’s disaster relief work, she said.
As he drove down dirt roads into secluded areas north of Smithville to monitor the quality of site-clearing operations, residents greeted Butch Moore, a TBM disaster relief volunteer from Second Baptist Church in LaGrange, as a welcomed friend.
Moore coordinated deployment of skid-steer loaders and their operators to job sites. First, heavy-equipment operators cleared metal from sites to give residents and volunteers a safe place to work. Next, TBM volunteers sifted ashes in areas residents identified as likely locations for jewelry or other valuables they might reclaim. Finally, the skid-steer operators cleared slabs and the surrounding area of debris to allow homeowners a clear site for rebuilding.
One former homeowner Moore met was living in a tent near his burned-out home site. The man told him he intended to rebuild on the same site.
“I asked him how he intended to do it, and he said, ‘I have a hammer and a handsaw,’” Moore recalled.
Once the local utility company restored electricity to the area and installed a pole with electrical outlets, Moore brought the man several power tools and a heavy-duty extension cord.
A TBM chainsaw crew and skid-steer loader operator from Harmony-Pittsburg Baptist Association cleared the site of a home belonging to a Bastrop County firefighter. The fires consumed his house while he was trying to contain the wildfire and save the homes of his neighbors, Moore noted.
Mud-out in Weslaco
Meanwhile, TBM deployed an incident-management team to facilitate a multi-faceted disaster relief operation in Weslaco, where floods filled about 1,000 homes with water ranging from one foot to four feet in depth. Mud-out crews shoveled mud from homes, rip out soaked flooring and damaged drywall, and then power-washed and disinfected surfaces. Other volunteers distributed cardboard boxes and helped residents gather scattered possessions.
To contribute to TBM disaster relief, click here or send a check designated “disaster relief” to Texas Baptist Men, 5351 Catron, Dallas 75227.
Special thanks to Ken Camp, managing editor of the Baptist Standard, for this story.