Since the largest wildfire in Texas history, an affected Bastrop County couple has worked to harvest, transport, mill, and are currently rebuilding their home from the timber on their Lost Pines property. With a creative and pioneering spirit to construct their home from the scorched trees, they are personally rebuilding from the ashes. Blessed by the relationship with a local sawmill, they are maximizing the wood resources in as many ways possible for construction and finishes.
One evening it's carousel and pony rides at the county fair-
the next, it's a fiery inferno engulfing life as we knew it.
It was that next day that we lost our home- and the years of
energy and work we placed in it... we lost investments of time and money- and the
beautiful forest sanctuary we prepared for our family…we lost the cute cabin we
built for guests, the studio space we always wanted, and the nursery for our
child- lovingly created just 22 months prior…we lost our baby books, childhood
mementos, family heirlooms, treasured love letters, irreplaceable photos, souvenirs
from travels, wedding keepsakes, and an inventory of our artwork that developed.
Fifteen years of building a life together were reduced to charred remnants that
barely filled a plastic tote- we lost part of ourselves that day and with it comes
a residual pain that will never go away.
Since that day, we’ve lost friends along the way- whether we
are to blame or not, we all had to find our own ways to cope with the situation…even
with the best intentions, perhaps this type of life-transforming event changes
us too much to take things back to the way they were…so, grief remains there, and
we’ve found out a lot about ourselves- the hard way.
Through all the loss we have found other things too… we
found our bootstraps- and we continue to pull ourselves up by them…we found strengths
in ourselves we wouldn’t have otherwise known…and we found weaknesses that we
hope to improve. We found silver linings, unusual passions, creative solutions
and new skills... we found different dreams to work toward. We found that we are unique in an
uncomfortable, yet liberating way.
We found that no matter how hard you plan and work at it-
the future you expect is not guaranteed…so for today- grab the reigns, hold
onto your ponies, enjoy the ups and downs of the carousel, and savor the
merry-go-round…’cause, after all, it’s just a ride.
I received an email today inquiring about lumber material for a sustainable housing project in Austin. This led me to respond with a brief explanation about the tree situation in Bastrop's fire area and our experiences trying to mill it for lumber. Hello!
I am conducting materials research for Foundation Communities (http://www.foundcom.org/)
to build affordable housing in Austin. We are trying to meet an
extremely ambitious sustainability certification known as the Living
Building Challenge (http://living-future.org/lbc).
We thought that Bastrop burned timber might be an
abundant and under-utilized resource in our region and by exposing some
of this burned wood in the building project we could tell the story of
this vicious fire.
can see that you all offer a service to harvest this wood for
landowners in Texas to help rebuild homes- can you send more information
along? Is this wood available for other building projects in the area
or have any contacts that could help us do this?
Looking forward to hearing back!
My Response: Hi...
We are individual homeowners
who lost our home in the fire. We had hundreds of pine trees and a
desire to use the timber from our 7 acres of forestland to rebuild our
home. Initially, we tried working with a start-up organization, Logs to
Lumber, who had worked out a milling arrangement with a sawmill in
Huntsville - the intention, fire victims could get lumber to rebuild.
We personally made efforts to bring awareness to Logs to Lumber and
utilizing the timber for our community... however, Logs to Lumber was
never able to get the support for equipment, labor and transport needed
in order to harvest effectively. Sadly, of 1700 homes lost and the need
for housing/building material in our immediate area, the timber was
never harvested in a way that was beneficial for our own community.
Although I appreciate the spirit of
your request, unfortunately, the Lost Pines
timber today is not viable for lumber due to the state of
decomposition...in fact, the majority of forest area is still standing
burned, dead and now broken. It is an emotional and visual blight for
those of us still living among it. In hindsight, it is my opinion there
are a number of factors why there has been an enormous amount of timber
wasted here (for building lumber).
we are in a endangered species area (Houston Toad) and the federal
agencies simply did not allow commercial loggers to harvest timber
without costly liability coverage (5x the state requirement)....therefore, industry
loggers never came to Bastrop to commercially harvest for lumber. This
factor has left homeowners stuck without the resources necessary to
cleanup. The county and utilities had loggers here to clear
right-of-ways and utility easements, however the timber that was cut by
their federal contractors was primarily mulched, but never milled for
of just a couple of months ago, a new wood pellet (biomass fuel)
processing plant was given permission from Texas Fish and Wildlife to
come in and harvest the burn area. They are under the supervision of
biologists protecting the Toad and project it will take an additional
3-5 years to clean up the burn area (Update 8/26/2015- Go Green shuts down in Paige, homeowners still in need).
number two, it requires a significant amount of energy and resources to
harvest, transport and mill for dimensional lumber....especially for
timber which is not specifically grown for the purpose of harvest (such
as timber farms in East Texas). Quite simply, it is A LOT of work
without the means of large logging operations....and we live in a day in
age where it is just easier to go to Home Depot for a $2 2x4. The
efforts we have personally made have been of our own volition and
having the heavy equipment resources available, we had to be creative
in the personal harvest of our timber. In May 2012, we made a game of
it and held a competition for 4x4 trucks and tractors to pull logs from
our forest and out to our road (Lost Pines Log Pull). We successfully
pulled 237 twenty-foot logs in two days. Due to transportation costs, we
ultimately made the decision to take our timber 25 miles away to a
small specialty sawmill in Elgin. We paid out of pocket to have our
first run of 100 logs cut, and subsequently befriended the sawmill owner
who bartered with us to trade my husbands labor at the mill, for the
rest of the milling work needed to rebuild our home. Today we are living
in our home which we personally built, and it is made out of
the trees from our property...it isn't yet complete and we still have a
lot of work ahead, but we are finally feeling the fruits of our
for the long-winded email, and that was probably more than you wanted
to know....but I thought the response deserved a brief explanation of a
complicated situation with the state of Bastrop's trees. We know the
owners of the two local sawmills in Bastrop County and neither milled
the pines in any significant way. We only know of a handful of people
who even used the resource at all in rebuilding, and we are the
only ones I know of who milled dimensional lumber for framing material.
So, as for other resources to direct you to for Bastrop lumber, I know
of none and I believe it to be a lost cause at this point.
Today marks the end of a chapter with the departure of our temporary home. This construction-office trailer was a blessing for it allowed us to live on property while we went on our logging, milling, and rebuilding adventures. It was a love-hate relationship...thankful for the roof it provided, while resenting the reason we had to live within it's confining space. Many tears were shed upon it's cheaply tiled floors....many screams were cast upon it's thin paneled walls...it stood quietly taunting us when we were filled with doubt and questioned our sanity....it was there for us and it shared in our heartbreaks and our victories. It was our "home" for the meanwhile- and for that we give great thanks for the opportunities it provided us. Good bye, you piece of shit...we will remember you always.
32 months post fire and the pines, willows and
cottonwoods are going strong in their 3rd spring. We have heard that,
"the first year they sleep, the second year they creep, the third year
they leap". With Rob standing at 6'1", it will be interesting to see
what the growth is like by the fall....here he is with 7' pine and 20'+ cottonwood.
As for the house, not much has been accomplished since our move into it at the end of February. On March 10th, Robert's mother passed away from health complications. That coupled with the need to settle in and breathe has had us enjoying our weekends more than working on the house. However, we are ready to get cracking back at the never-ending list of small projects to accomplish.
Although it is not completed, we have decided that we can make the move into the house! We have completed enough construction to make it work, and have made ready this bedroom to live in in the meanwhile. The
walls are made from pine tree slices. It lacks flooring and some trim,
but it is insulated on all sides and will do for now. This is our son's room,
and once the main space is completed, we will sleep in the loft
(until we eventually do another addition on the house).
This is definitely a happy milestone we are proud to reach...it wasn't
without it's doubts, challenges and sore bodies- but, here we are!
Thank God! We are
currently still in the process of moving things out of the rented
trailer and into the home...and it feels so amazing to finally be in
In addition to getting the room ready, Adrian Santos came back out to help us install this
antique wood burning stove in the living room. This stove and other furniture was kindly gifted to us by Jamaica's uncle.
Three of four exterior walls have cedar siding mostly complete and lack trim work. After researching options for moisture barrier, we decided on the tried and true method of roofing felt laid under the siding. Tannins in the cedar are thought to erode modern Tyvec material, so we went with "tar paper" which has been used for such purposes for over 100 years. We have temporarily placed Tyvec on the long east wall until we get the cedar material here from the sawmill. Wood, when unsealed and exposed to UV rays, turns gray, and yet unlike pine, cedar is naturally resistant to rot by weather or insects, making it ideal for exterior siding. It is our desire that this home have a raw and rustic aesthetic to it, so we have decided that we would like the cedar siding to naturally gray.
What a joyful milestone this is...a bathtub!!!
We've had a stand-up shower in this temporary trailer for two years, and our son
has been bathing in a small plastic tub- so this is big excitement and we'll be soaking it up! Through
all this work, we haven't been able to relax in a hot tub...so, this is
really amazing for all of us! We all took our turn with a nice long
bath....ahhh, the small stuff is the good stuff! We have not made the official move into the house yet, but were able to make great progress over the holidays and the last couple of weeks!
Here is the island bar we built in order to install the kitchen sink....currently unfinished, it is made from pine timbers with cedar on the top.