Elicia Gower

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Steiner Ranch Rebuilding

November 29, 2011

Great Article Today via the Statesman

Nearly three months after wildfires swept through Steiner Ranch, life is starting to go back to normal, even though there are still 23 scarred plots of land where homes once stood not a house is rebuilt yet.

On Sept. 4, wildfires reached the western Travis County subdivision near RM 620, burning more than 100 acres, destroying almost two dozen houses and leaving 20 other homes damaged.

The families whose homes were destroyed have moved in with relatives or into rental properties, waiting until the day they can once again walk through the front door to a new home. Residents said that if anything good has came out of the disaster, it’s a greater sense of community and compassion for other areas affected by the September wildfires, such as Bastrop.

On Sept. 4, Dan Sterns was home with his family when he looked outside and noticed the wildfire starting near RM 620, still a distance from his home. But, in an instant, Sterns said, the wind changed, and he saw flames jump toward his direction. Before he knew it, the fire was across the street from him, and all he could do was grab his cellphone and wallet before leaving his home on Medina River Way for the last time.

For the past two months, his family has been living in a rental home in the Steiner Ranch community. His family has had to start over with only the clothes on their backs and the relief that no one was harmed.

He hopes that in the next four to six weeks, their new home will be under construction — and built in six to seven more months.

“I want those things you can’t get back,” Sterns said. “There’s no house there, but I still remember it as the place where my home was and where my kids would play outside.”

After work, Sterns usually stops at the spot to water the plants left and occasionally sift through ashes.

“Every time I come by, I look around and remember 23 houses lost everything,” Sterns said. “I would trade anything to not have gone through this.”

Two months later, Sterns has gone over the events of Sept. 4 again and again, and he said that if his experience can help anyone in the future, he would tell them to be prepared and take the threat of a wildfire seriously.

“We’re in a situation that we can’t change, where we have to just roll with the punches and stay positive,” Sterns said. “Hopefully by my family’s experience, if one person can benefit from one person who’s gone through it, that will make me feel better.”

Three lots away from Sterns’ is the home of Donna Poursepanj . Hers is one of the three houses left standing at the cul-de-sac on Medina River Way . Her home was spared after a STAR Flight helicopter dumped water on her house in an air drop that helped stop flames and save more than 300 homes.

“When I got here the day of the fire, it felt like Armageddon,” Poursepanj said. But “even as I drove away (from my house) that day, I had calmness in knowing there was hope.”

It wasn’t until later when Poursepanj saw a news clip of the fire damage on CNN taken by a neighbor that she knew her home was still standing.

“After the fact, I’d wish that my house had burnt down because I couldn’t bear that my neighbors, who are like family to me, had lost everything,” Poursepanj said.

Weeks later, Poursepanj started to figure out that she had survivor’s guilt.

There was extensive smoke and soot residue that she said “tinged” the walls with black film, and residue was still circulating in the air. After feeling nauseated from the fumes while simply standing in the living room, she chose to move out until it could be cleaned.

Over the past two months, she has been living in an apartment in the area and dealing with her insurance company.

From baseboards to air ducts, every inch has been cleaned, recarpeted and wiped down so that Poursepanj could be back home by Thanksgiving Day.

“I don’t understand why my home was spared and probably never will,” she said.

As donations and aid began pouring into Steiner Ranch in the days after the fire, its residents chose to pass along items to victims in Bastrop County, where another wildfire destroyed 34,000 acres and 1,600 homes.

“The community is doing pretty well, mostly because they’ve seen how much worse it was in other places,” said Scott Selman , executive director of the Steiner Ranch Home Owners Association. “The focus seems to have turned.”

Shortly after the fire, volunteer and donation aid poured into the community, including $10,000 worth of gift cards, according to Adan Ballesteros , Travis County constable for Precinct 2.

Steiner Ranch residents chose to send extra relief to other areas across Central Texas, including Bastrop.

Into the holidays, Steiner Ranch residents are raising donations through local churches for others in need, even as they continue to recover.

“I think because the fire hit close to home, it brought out a greater level of compassion for those that weren’t in our vicinity but still shared our experience,” said Chris Hurta, Hill Country Bible Church Steiner Ranch pastor.

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