Nearly 20,000 acres scorched. Almost 80 homes destroyed. Firefighters battling heat, wind and flames for nearly two weeks. These are some of the heartwrenching memories from the Tri-County wildfire that ravaged the area near Magnolia just a year ago.
But for every bad memory it seems as if there were many more heartwarming stories. Like the horse that was saved after suffering burns to nearly 40 percent of its body. Houses still standing, even though the earth was scorched all around it. Firefighters from as far away as Alaska showing up to help.
“It was amazing to see what the community was able to do and what it did to help the firefighters,” Jared Karns, with the Texas Forest Service said.
Magnolia Fire Chief Gary Vincent agreed.
The absolute support we had from the community and the efforts of the firefighters was great,” he said. “A lot of people put their lives on the line and did a tremendous job.”
"My son was with the volunteer fire department,” said resident Becky Yountz. “He was having dinner with us and he got called to go to the fire station. None of us imagined he wouldn't be back for six days. They all worked so hard --- day and night --- I don't know how they did it."
The weeks leading up to the fire, officials said were almost like waiting for the inevitable. No rain for months. Conditions just kept getting drier and to top it off a tropical storm was headed for Louisiana, bringing no water relief, but sending the winds this way -- winds that can fuel a fire.
“The drought conditions were the worst I had ever seen,” Vincent said.
Once the winds came from Tropical Storm Lee, the perfect “storm” had arrived.
“These wrap around dry winds are what caused the fire to spread,” Montgomery County Fire Marshal Jimmy Williams said.
On the day of the fire, Vincent knew his department was up against it when he saw the first column of smoke.
“When I saw that I knew it was a major event,” he said.
While firefighters battled the inferno, members of law enforcement and Montgomery County’s Emergency Management Office began the painful process of evacuations.
One of those evacuees was Erin Redwine, who lived in the Ranch Crest subdivision.
“You never think it will happen to you, but we had all of ten minutes to get out,” Redwine said. “You really need to be sure to keep important papers all in one box so they are easy to grab. People should to be ready to take their pets with them when something like this happens -- I saw one poor dog left tied to a tree."
Vincent said that while 76 houses were lost in the fire, more than 10,000 were saved due to efforts on the ground and in the air. Officials estimate that more that $1 billion in property was saved.
Karns, Vincent and Williams hope the event stirred up some awareness in the community on what to do to help ensure their home is protected.
“We had what we hope was a once in a lifetime event, but you have got to prepare for it,” Williams said.
“It is incumbent that people prepare beforehand,” Vincent added.
Karns said one way residents can educate themselves on how to prepare is by visiting the Texas Forest Service firewise site at texasfirewise.com.
“It’s very important to learn these firewise techniques to keep yourself, your family and your property safe.”
Tribune Correspondent Cheryl Garcia contributed to this report.