Surrounded by Central Texas Wildfires

The gravity of the situation first hit home when my ex-husband texted from where he was camping with my two daughters, “The sky is turning black. We may have to evacuate.”

I hadn’t paid close attention to the fires until that moment. I immediately began clicking on maps (Weather Underground was the best). The fires weren’t super close, but the wind was blowing their direction.

Map of Central Texas fires

“Thank God for phones with Internet,” came the next text. He knew where the fires were, which direction they were going, and what roads were already closed so they could make their way out. The wind changed direction while they were packing and blew the smoke away.

The next text message came at 1 a.m. when a friend told us, “There is a fire in your neighborhood.”

The map showed a fire only a few blocks away. (This map shows us at the yellow star, the girls’ campground as the pink star.) We stepped outside, but the fire must have already been put out. Most likely something in someone’s back yard. We looked online and saw we were now in a barbeque ban —- no outdoor cooking for Labor Day. The whole city was kindling after months of drought conditions. Even a cigarette butt was dangerous.

Our plans today included a drive around town looking for locations for my annual Christmas shoots for my photography clients. As we drove down Loop 360 on the west side of Austin, we saw this scene and stopped so I could take the shot of the Bastrop fires behind the skyline:

Central Texas Fire over Austin Skyline

I picked up my daughters, safely home and animated about the drive back from the campground, a ride through varying intensities of smoke.  As we drove away from this image of downtown and toward the south, we saw the smoke from the Steiner Ranch fires. Elizabeth, who is nine, said, “It needs to rain or all the world will be on fire.”

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Use of this photo for causes related to fundraising for the wildfire victims is fine (flyers, newsletters, blogs, web sites). News media should email me for a higher res file.

36 thoughts on “Surrounded by Central Texas Wildfires”

  1. I am so glad that your family is safe. I can only pray that your home was spared! Your photo moved me tremendously!
    It gave me a geographical perspective that I did not have from Dallas and knowing that we had two sets of family in Tahitian Village, it helped me to wrap my mind around the gravity of this unbelieveable and surreal wildfire!

  2. Hello.

    This is not meant to downplay the seriousness of the situation, but, what lens did you use to take photo? There is some debate online about the authenticity of the image.

    I hope you are safe… What an unbelievable time.

  3. I guess it wouldn’t be a true viral photo experience without a debate? The metadata should be intact on that photo but I used a 28-135 Canon lens on a 5D Mark II. I’d have to check on the exposure as I was bracketing. I was hoping to take some video too, but honestly the smoke wasn’t really moving at all, so I didn’t see a reason to.

    The image is cropped a lot from the bottom because I was on the side of a highway and the road and silver guardrail were very distracting in the image.

    I increased the contrast of the image as the haze made everything so much grayer than real life (and wish now I had taken that dust spot out of the corner–didn’t realize I needed to clean my sensor until it has already been uploaded.)

    Anyway, debate away. I don’t have anything resting on this image. I took it because it was striking and probably wouldn’t have uploaded it except my fiance wanted to share it with the California family. I had no idea it would get so popular, but hope it will keep attention here. The kinder teacher at the school that is almost in the image is staying there because she can’t return to her home in Steiner Ranch. Several friends are frantically trying to move livestock–it’s been a critical issue all day.

  4. A friend posted a link to this page on her Facebook tonight. I just wanted to jump in and comment that this is indeed what I stared at for an hour as I drove back to Austin tonight after a weekend in Houston. As soon as we left Brenham I could see what looked like low clouds from a distance. As the news report on the radio was reporting that approximately 25,000 acres in Bastrop was burning and that over 500 homes were already affected, I realized I was driving towards the smoke that you see in the picture. As we approached Giddings we were terrified that we were driving right into it. Reassured by friends who were about 30 minutes ahead of us on the drive, we realized that as the highway would turned, that the fire would be clearly off to the left. Sure enough, this is exactly what we were seeing, just from another angle.

  5. Thank you for taking the time to answer. The mixed blessings of the Internet. 😉

    It is in fact a very striking image. That’s probably one of the reasons some people have issues with it. I think there will always be those who see a striking or unexpected image and react with immediate disbelief due to, in part, a lack of understanding as to how the image was made.

    I hope your friends are safe and can go back home soon. Take care.

  6. Charles Doughtie

    This looks quite similar to what I could see from home south of Hutto, northeast of Austin, and near three smaller fires Sunday. It is authentic.

  7. Several friends posted your amazing photo on FB. I work at Lutheran Social Services; our Disaster Response program is responding to short- and long-term needs to those affected by the fire. (we were one of the lead responders to Ike and Katrina) Can we use your photo to help spread the word? We will give you credit, of course! A picture is worth 1,000 words, and time is of the essence. Your image would do so much, if you are willing. Here’s a like to our blog: http://helphealinghope.wordpress.com/2011/09/05/lss-disaster-response-central-texas-wildfires-labor-day-weekend/

  8. somewhere in austin

    Hi Deanna – It is a very arresting image. Shoot me an email if your friends are still trying to get livestock taken care of. There’s someone up by Houston who can trailer 10 horses at a time, and pasture up to 60.

  9. We are in Austin’s Colony in far E. Austin and it looks like the closest one to us is in Cedar Creek which looks like it is about 20 miles away, although I can smell the smoke now. Very striking pic. I saw something like this image yesterday as so many of us did driving down the 183 with a wall of smoke to my Right and then one far over to my Left.

  10. Jean Ann Fennell

    I saw your photo on FB and googled to find your site. This is an incredible photo and anyone who would not believe it is real, isn’t from this area. It really puts the Bastrop fires into perspective. Thank you for sharing it with us.

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  12. My sister-in-law and niece have family that live in Bastrop. They were forced to evacuate with two minutes notice. So far their home is safe.
    We are all praying for all who are affected by this tragedy.
    Thanks for the photo. It is amazing!!

  13. You know this picture is on front page of CNN today – right? but I think it’s credited to KUT. Might want to check that out.

  14. It’s so many places with and without the credit. It’s fine. I’m not taking money for the photo, no way, and as long as it’s getting out there and showing people the extent of the disaster, it’s doing it’s job. I hope to make people feel a pressing need to donate.

  15. Hey Deanna,
    Do you mind if i use your pic for a fundraiser flyer for the bastrop fire? I would appreciate it.

  16. Deanna, this picture is so stunning. Growing up in So Calif, we saw many huge fires in our backyards. I don’t know if anyone has approached you yet, but prints (posters) of this picture would be a great way to raise money for some type of victim relief (I’m sure we can get at least some donated overhead). I, for one, would love to buy one, as well as many of my friends. Let me know what you think.
    Very well done. sharon

  17. Would you happen to be able to provide a google map location for this shot? It is a great view of the skyline, and I have some ideas for some photos I’d like to take using a similar perspective. (once things clear up :\)

    But you’ve got a great shot. I’m glad it’s being used to get word out

  18. Hello Deanna – This is a great photo of the Bastrop fire. We used to live just off of Loop 360 and Great Hills Trail and now we live in Bastrop County very near the Union Chapel fire. What an amazing view of our fires from such a distance.
    Thank you for sharing this photo with everyone.

  19. Frederick, here is a link to the Google Map location of the shot.

    http://bit.ly/og5Qdc

    Sharon — not sure about the photo yet. Some people are asking for prints. I’m not sure what to do about that, how to get the money to go to the right places. Lots of fundraisers are using it. I think there will be much better photos in the end than mine to show the emotional and historical toll.

  20. Hi Deanna,

    I live in New Braunfels Tx and through facebook friends I was shown the amazing picture you shot of the Bastrop wildfire from the Austin skyline. I didn’t realize you had a copy right on the picture and sent it in to the Weather Channel at iwitness@weather.com. They are interested in using your picture to show on their channel, but needed your permission first. I don’t know if that is something you would want to do, but if it is you can contact Le’Ondre Harris at LHarris@weather.com.

    Thank you for all you are doing. If you don’t mind just message me back and tell me what you think.

    Thank you again,
    Lauren

  21. Deanna – Just saw your picture on the KVUE news, about 11:45 am this morning. Nice, full screen display, clearly giving you credit for the photo.

  22. Your picture literally moved me to tears. Seriously. Awesome photography, Deanna. And a really admire your generosoty in sharing it without regard to compensation. I hope everyone credits you; you deserve it.

    When did you take it? I mean, time and ddate…Thanks.

  23. Deanna,

    Thank you for being so generous in sharing your photo with the world. We live in Florida, but Austin is my hometown, and we are watching the news daily with great concern for all involved. Praying for rain!

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  26. Deanna. If you have a moment, I’d like to talk to you about the photo you took that shows the smoke rising up behind the Austin skyline. I’d like to talk to you abut possibly using it in some push cards asking people not to smoke at some major outdoor concert events coming up in Austin. I’m the PR director for a local ad agenchy in town and we do work with some government and nonprofit clients who are very concerned about fire threats in Central Austin.

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