Wildfire evacuees set up tent city


by Shern-Min Chow / KHOU 11 News


Posted on June 22, 2011 at 12:14 AM

Updated Wednesday, Jun 22 at 10:55 AM

HOUSTON -- Dozens of families have set up camp at a makeshift tent city in front of the Plantersville Town Hall, after being evacuated from their homes by wildfires.

Children played on the swings, parents fed their families and some men worked on their cars at the so-called "refugee camp" on Tuesday. Roughly a dozen of the families were part of a larger clan. They are all related and live in Pinebrook.

Earlier in the day, a few of the ladies and several of the children got as close as authorities would let them to the fire.

“We can see the smoke coming out of where we stay at,” said Yuliana Piedra.

A long line of mailboxes to the neighborhood marked the evacuation perimeter.

Neighbors checked in at the blockade for any word, and for a little hope, however unlikely.

“I need about 15 minutes to get some tools and a trailer off the property, and I need deputy sheriff escort to do that,” said Al Franke.

He admitted the chances of that happening were slim.

Richard Poole, another displaced resident, was unhappy. He had defied the evacuation order once.

“I snuck back in, they threw me out again this afternoon,” he said.


He said authorities threatened to arrest him.

“That’s right, this time they said they would so I left,” he said.

Leaving was tough, said Poole.

“I had to leave all my animals. Let ‘em go. Let ‘em run,” he said.

Some managed to bring bulldozers, work equipment and  trailers. Others got out truly with just the clothes on their back.

“[We] couldn’t get our papers. Our mom’s purse. Money, everything was left behind,” said 10-year-old Ashley Benito.

The family van had become a motel room. There wasn’t a place to check their worries.

When asked if her family had insurance, Claudia Velasquez silently and sadly shook her head "no."

Good Samaritans from nearby churches, and just from nearby, brought food and a little comfort.

Even the youngest residents watched all the drama unfold.

Ashley described seeing helicopters dump water on the fire.  And 11- year-old Yuri Piedra likened it all to “a terrible movie.”