Wondering about wild grapes

Friday, September 23, 2011

A Texas Tri-County Fire Story

I don’t usually do this, but I received an email with this story attached and I thought it should be shared. So I am copying and pasting it here on my blog:

This is what a couple of local women in our county did during the recent fire disaster to organize help for victims way before the bureaucrats of FEMA finally showed up to take charge of the situation. Sounds like the best thing for the wonderful FEMA bureaucrats could do is to stay in their beds and not stick their publicity seeking noses in emergency situations where they only deter progress!

Here are some stories about the Tricounty fire in Montgomery, Grimes, and Waller County, Memorial week, 2011.

My neighbor across the road has a sister named Kenna. Memorial Day, when she saw the huge column of smoke over our homes, she left a birthday party at my neighbor’s house to meet with her friend Tara at the Baseball complex in Magnolia. She called the owner of the complex and got permission to use the warehouse there as a staging area for donations for the fire fighting effort.

They put a notice out on facebook that they were going to be taking donations on their facebook pages. That night as they were setting up tables and organizing, News 2 Houston came by and saw the activity, investigated and left with the phone numbers and a list of suggested donations.

The facebook notice propagated faster than the fire. By dawn they had 20 volunteers, bins, forklifts, and donations were pouring in. I stopped by with my pitiful little bags of nasal wash and eye wash, and was amazed. There must have been 20 trucks in the lot, offloading cases of water, pallets of Gatorade , and people lined up out the door with sacks of beef jerky, baby wipes, underwear, socks, and you name it. School buses and trailers from many counties around were there offloading supplies, students forming living chains to pass stuff into the bins for transport to the command center and staging areas. If the firefighters had requested it, it was there. What do you give the guy out there fighting the fire that might engulf your home? Anything he or she wants. Including chewing tobacco and cigarettes.

Kenna moved on to the Unified Command Post at Magnolia West High school. She looked at what the fire fighters needed, and she made calls and set it up.

Mattress Mac donated 150 beds. Two class rooms turned into barracks kept quiet and dark for rest. The CEO of HEB donated 2 semi trailers full of supplies, and sent a mobile commercial kitchen at no charge to feed all the workers, but especially our firefighters, 3 hot meals a day. An impromptu commissary was set up, anything the firefighters had requested available at no charge.

As exhausted firefighters (most of them from local VFDs with no training or experience battling wildfires) and workers came into the school after long hours of hard labor, dehydrated, hungry, covered with soot and ash, they got what they needed. They were directed through the commissary, where they got soap, eye wash and nasal spray, candy, clean socks and underwear, and then were sent off to the school locker rooms for a shower. HEB then fed them a hot meal and they got 8 hours sleep in a barracks, then another hot meal, another pass through the commissary for supplies to carry with them out to lines, including gloves, safety glasses, dust masks and snacks, and back they went.

One of the imported crew from California came into Unified Command and asked where the FEMA Powerbars and water were. He was escorted to the commissary and started through the system. He was flabbergasted. He said FEMA never did it like this. Kenna replied, ”Well, this is the way we do it in Texas.”

Fire fighting equipment needed repair? The auto shop at the High School ran 24/7 with local mechanics volunteering, students, and the firefighters fixing the equipment.

Down one side of the school, the water tankers lined up at the fire hydrants and filled with water. Down the other side there was a steady parade of gasoline tankers filling trucks, dozers, tankers, cans, chain saws, and vehicles.

Mind you, all of this was set up by 2 Moms, Kenna and Tara, with a staff of 20 simple volunteers, most of them women who had sons, daughters, husbands, and friends on the fire lines. Someone always knew someone who could get what they needed- beds, mechanics, food, space. Local people using local connections to mobilize local resources made this happen. No government aid. No Trained Expert.

At one point the fire was less than a mile from the school, and everyone but hose volunteers were evacuated. The fire was turned.

The Red Cross came in, looked at what they were doing, and quietly went away to set up a fire victim relief center nearby. They said they couldn’t do it any better.

FEMA came in and told those volunteers and Kenna that they had to leave, FEMA was here now. Kenna told them she worked for the firefighters, not them. They were obnoxious, bossy, got in the way, and criticized everything. The volunteers refused to back down and kept doing their job, and doing it well. Next FEMA said the HEB supplies and kitchen had to go, that was blatant commercialism. Kenna said they stayed. They stayed. FEMA threw a wall eyed fit about chewing tobacco and cigarettes being available in the commissary area. Kenna told them the firefighters had requested it, and it was staying. It stayed. FEMA got very nasty and kept asking what organization these volunteers belonged to- and all the volunteers told them “Our community”. FEMA didn’t like that and demanded they make up a name for themselves. One mother remarked “They got me at my boiling point!” and suddenly the group was “212 Degrees”. FEMA’s contribution? They came in the next day with red shirts embroidered with “212 Degrees”, insisting the volunteers had to be identified, never realizing it was a slap in their face. Your tax dollars at work- labeling volunteers with useless shirts and getting in the way.

The upshot? A fire that the experts from California (for whom we are so grateful there are no words) said would take 2-3 weeks to get under control was 100% contained in 8 days. There was so much equipment and supplies donated, 3 container trucks are loaded with the excess to go and set up a similar relief center for the fire fighters in Bastrop. The local relief agencies have asked people to stop bringing in donations of clothing, food, household items, and pretty much everything else because they only have 60 displaced households to care for, and there is enough to supply hundreds. Again, excess is going to be shipped to Bastrop, where there are 1500 displaced households. Wish we could send Kenna, too, but she has to go back to her regular job.
I got this email from a local friend. I can not confirm or disprove it's authenticity although I did find it on the internet here:


You all have a good day now, you hear?


  1. Now that's how it's supposed to be done! Good for those ladies.

  2. Now that's what I'm talk'n bout. You take a good thing that's work'n and suddenly the government steps in and all hell breaks loose. Your tax dollars at work.

  3. Good for them! If we are going to get through these trying times it's going to be through efforts on the local level. The communities in VT, after the flooding, did pretty much the same thing.

  4. daughter, yes, we all have to start looking out for each other. Better off keeping the govenment out of it.

    BB, I agree with you for sure.

    6bears, I don't believe this is a unique story, but more of them need to be told.

  5. So true, of good folks. Will jump in n help every time, with their all.

  6. Yea, left alone we Texans can take care of us.

  7. Trouble, when the news is full of all the bad that people do, it is refreshing to hear about the good.

    Ben, you got that right.