- (Photo: REUTERS/Mike Stone)
Students returned to school on Monday in the aftermath of the worst wildfire in Texas state history, which the federal government officially declared a disaster this past Friday.
The reopening of Bastrop Independent School District was a step toward normalcy for the community affected by more than 200 wildfires spreading over Labor Day weekend.
Getting back to school involved adjusting to the changes the disaster caused. For instance, school buses picked up passengers at area motels where hundreds of students have been staying, since 1,500 homes were lost in Tropical Storm Lee’s path.
Also, since many families in central Texas are without kitchens, power or electricity, the district provided breakfast and lunch for students.
Though life after the fire has required students to adjust in changes in how they get to and from school, and how they get their daily nourishment, the chaos did not affect overall attendance in a significant way. School spokesperson Donald Williams said that, districtwide, only 6 percent of students were absent. as to the youngest school children, Kindergarten to fourth grade, only 24 of the school's 435 students missed classes.
The Bastrop Independent School District serves the Texas municipalities of Bastrop, Cedar Creek, Red Rock, Rockne and Paige. in the wake of the fire, the schools were used as shelters and staging points for firefighters.
Even after the schools reopened Monday, the district extended resources and aid to the general public by providing counseling and offering food.
With schools up and running, Texans are hoping for other signs that life as they know it is returning to normal.
Bill Paxton of the Texas Forest Service said that the Bastrop County Complex Fire is about 60 percent contained.
"We're making progress, but we are still not out of the woods until we get significant precipitation," he told Reuters.
Church leaders say hope is what Texans are clinging to at the moment.
Dr. Raymond Edge, pastor of the First Baptist Church in Bastrop, said his ministry now involves "giving hope to people who have no hope whatsoever."
"People come in," said Edge, "and they say to me, 'Oh, Lord, why has this happened to me?' I respond, 'He has a reason for doing it. Do we know what that reason is? Absolutely not.'"
The Baptist pastor said it's tough trying to provide comfort for so many people who have lost so much.
"We need to be reminded," he said, "that God will bring beauty out of ashes,"