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STAR Flight Crew Recalls 2011 Central Texas Labor Day Wildfires

Updated: Tuesday, September 4 2012, 07:53 PM CDT

Like thousands of other residents in Central Texas, STAR Flight pilot Chuck Spangler got the news about the 2011 Labor Day wildfires through a knock at the door.  His own neighborhood was burning, "When I first saw it and got on it I thought oh boy this is going to be really bad.  The flames and smoke was huge.  It's hard to describe visually what it looked like."

Spangler evacuated and headed straight to work, along with the rest of the crew.  It was all hands on deck.  "This is a big event you won't forget about," recalls STAR Flight Paramedic Scott White.  For an entire week…the crews kept all three of the county's rescue birds in the air as they struggled to tame three different wildfires in Travis County. "My thought was when is this going to end," says STAR Flight Director of Aviation Willy Culberson.  White adds, “That particular day every direction you looked there was fire everywhere".

From the air, responders could see the Pedernales fire, the Pflugerville fire, and the most stubborn of the three blazes -- the one in Steiner Ranch; where Spangler and four of his co-workers lived, "It's close to home and all that stuff.  And it's the first time I have fought an urban fire.  We've always done wild land grassfires and forests, even in the military.  So to be fighting house fires was different, way different.  By the end of the day all three aircraft were on that fire and we literally picked out four houses that were inside the perimeter of the fire that were not involved."

125 gallons at a time, Spangler says the crews ferried buckets beneath the bellies of the whirlybirds as they approached the inferno below with an almost athletic mindset, "How to sequence the drops, how to sling the buckets to get to the right place on the roof lines…you can be spot on, I mean within a foot of where you want the water".

Complicating matters, they couldn't always see the homes they were trying to save in Steiner Ranch, so they had to just look for the stream coming from firefighting hoses below.  Somehow it was working, says Spangler, "Those four houses were getting hit with a bucket of water every 15 seconds". 

As they scurried to nearby Lake Travis to refill their bucket, the crew could see that there were so many homes that were beyond saving.  "You feel sorry for the loss and for the folks affected by all that,” says White.

But Spangler says there was some good news regarding those four houses they had worked so tirelessly to save, "And after was all said and done we got confirmation that those four houses were the only houses left.  To be able to save them when they are completely surrounded by other houses that are completely involved and trees and stuff like that…I was pretty satisfied."

By Jason Wheeler.
STAR Flight Crew Recalls 2011 Central Texas Labor Day Wildfires

Click here to see more Central Texas Wildfires

Central Texas Wildfires - Bastrop Map

Central Texas Wildfires - Bastrop Map

Bastrop Anniversary Events

Tue. Sept. 4, 6:30 p.m.
A Night of Hope, Hyatt Lost Pines

An evening remembering the last year and looking forward toward a bright future. For tickets and more information contact Jennifer Long, 512-461-9418 or Sponsored by Bastrop County Long Term Recovery Team.

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