UT and Austin community hasten to provide relief for Bastrop residents

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Lt. Eddy Harris of the Abilene Fire Department scans the area around FM 1441 in Bastrop, TX Thursday evening for hot spots that have the potential of flaring up and reigniting the fires that devastated Central Texas. UT students and other Austin community members have teamed up to raise money for fire relief.

Photo Credit: Tamir Kalifa | Daily Texan Staff

The UT community is coming together to support Bastrop residents affected by the recent wildfires spread across the area.

Molly Allender, exercise science junior and Bastrop resident of 12 years, said her family’s house was not damaged, but several families in her community have lost their homes to the wildfires.

“The outpouring has been huge from the Bastrop community and surrounding areas,” Allender said. “But at the same time, I don’t think anything will ever fully make up for what’s been lost.”

Allender said her mother and sister evacuated along with other residents when the fires were approaching. As roads in the area reopen and people return home in the coming weeks, Bastrop residents will know the full extent of damage that has been done to their homes, she said.

“I think immediately, everything that can be done has been,” Allender said. “I think trying to find housing and job placement for people who have been displaced will be the next long-term step in moving forward.”

The fires, which have affected more than 34,000 acres of land, are now approximately 60 percent contained, according to a press release from Bastrop County. County officials are currently implementing a re-entry schedule for evacuated residents to return to their homes.

Monica Williams, Austin Community Foundation spokeswoman, said the organization created the Central Texas Wildfire Fund, which accepts donations online, to provide support for those affected by the disaster.

“We’re exposed to tremendous generosity every day, but in an event like this where even our staff’s family members are affected, it’s wonderful to see how people are so quick to help,” Williams said. “It’s not surprising, but it is amazing.”

Williams said her staff has been overwhelmed with processing the high volume of donations they are receiving from local residents, volunteer organizations and businesses.

“Donating things helps with immediate basic needs, and there’s a big need for that now,” she said. “But giving funds allows us to continue to help people throughout the coming months and into the next year, which is equally important.”

David Bukstein, radio-television-film senior, is filming a public service announcement to document the destruction caused by the fires and how those affected are coping. Bukstein said he is donating the finished video to the American Red Cross to encourage people to volunteer and donate to the cause.

“I thought it was a good opportunity to show that at the University we’re getting involved and utilizing our education in a way that benefits the public good,” Bukstein said. “If I can get 1,000 people to volunteer and donate, then I will have done more than my share.”

Biology sophomore Mark Jones tabled outside the University Co-op with UT’s Senate of College Councils Monday to gather donations for Bastrop fire relief. The group is partnering with several volunteer organizations on campus to raise money and collect clothing for fire victims throughout the week.

“This event was put together very quickly,” Jones said. “We wanted to do our part to help out, and the response from people around the University has just been great.”

Printed on September 13th, 2011 as: Community help Bastrop fire victims