Central Texas fire departments still struggling after 2011 wildfires



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Posted on July 11, 2013 at 5:22 PM

Updated Thursday, Jul 11 at 5:41 PM

SPICEWOOD, Texas -- Fire departments are still in desperate need after the 2011 wildfires. Just Wednesday FEMA announced nearly $48 million is being awarded to reimburse the state for firefighting costs, but none of the counties in Texas will see any of the money.

Evidence of the 2011 wildfires is still apparent in Spicewood. Charred black trees line Pale Face Ranch Road.

"The last two years, us and all of our neighbors have been basically putting Humpty Dumpty back together again," said Spicewood Volunteer Fire Dept. Vice President Michael Bay-Borelli. "It's been quite a challenge."

Bay-Borelli watched crews work tirelessly to save his and his neighbors' homes in 2011.

"It was terrifying to be perfectly honest. We were out of town when the fire started. We got a phone call. We raced back. We got our horses and our dogs, cows, pigs and chickens, and we raced down the driveway and had the fire licking at our heels," he remembered.

The terrifying experience inspired him to help the volunteer department. He came down with money to donate but left with the title of vice president.

"We realized that the fire department needed more than just a check. They needed people," he explained.

After the fires all state and county agencies involved turned in their firefighting costs to the state, which reimbursed them. This FEMA money is now, in turn, going to reimburse the state.

"I'm excited for the State of Texas. I'm not excited for Spicewood. We won't see any advantage to those moneys coming into the state," Bay-Borelli said.

"This fire department needs approximately $150,000 a year to operate. They get $23,312 from Burnet County, and that's the only government money they get," Bay-Borelli said. "So everything else is fish frys, and pancake breakfasts and demolition derbies."

"Times are kind of hard right now. People don't have a lot of money to donate to stuff like this," said Spicewood VFD EMS Director Patsy Lester.

Lester helped fight the fires in 2011.

"It looked like the world was burning," she described. "Everything was just covered with smoke. You could just watch houses explode. As soon as the fire hit them, they blew up."

The department lost two firetrucks. They've since been replaced.

"Almost all of the trucks we have are hand-me-downs," Bay-Borelli explained. "We have one new truck in the entire fleet."

Still, Bay-Borelli says the daily maintenance and repairs can cost thousands of dollars.

"Everything else has been held together with bell and twine and bubblegum," he said.

Recently Burnet County approved a petition to create an Emergency Service District, which would allow the fire department to collect some tax dollars. It will be up for a vote on the November ballot.

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