Texans watched in horror as wildfires consumed the central Texas town of Bastrop.
Two people died and about 1,500 homes were destroyed as the fire raged through the dry tinder of the Lost Pines.
“You know the mystery behind why is this pine forest here will probably always be a mystery.”
Todd McClanahan is the Bastrop State Park Superintendent. He says the Lost Pines, not to be confused with the Piney Woods of East Texas, are unique. The forest is entirely wooded with Loblolly Pines, an especially hardy drought-resistant tree.
But little of the forest in the 6,500 acre park remains. McClanahan says about 95 percent of the park burned.
“This fire couldn’t have been in a worse location and had worse conditions, as far as the starting point for the state park. We were pretty much due south of where it started and it just continued to spread. And it’s pretty devastating when you drive out through the park and are used to seeing just lush green trees.”
Bastrop State Park was developed in the 1930s under the New Deal.
The Civilian Conservation Corps built cabins from native sandstone quarried in the area and turned the Lost Pines into a destination for about 150,000 visitors a year.
Park employees saved those buildings from the fire, but what may not have been saved is the endangered Houston Toad that makes its home in the park.
“The Houston Toad — we just don’t know at this point. It has been a really rough go these past couple of years with very low breeding season, as far as success rates on those. And they only come out in the spring time. This was one of the last strongholds for the toad and that’s certainly top on our mind as far as a priority and how can we best give them an opportunity to continue to thrive.”
McClanahan, who lives in the park, says the damage is so severe, it will take decades to restore.
“You know although we were able to save my house, feel like I lost my home. I lost a large portion of my home. It’s not just the things that I have in our house. It’s this area, it’s the friends that we have and the community which makes it a home.”
McClanahan says he’s fielding hundreds of inquiries from people who want to help in the aftermath of the fires. He says the best way to help is to donate to a fund set up by Texas Parks and Wildlife to support the ecological restoration of Bastrop State Park.