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I pulled up slowly into the driveway, as

Tracy and I took in every inch of the view confronting us. T e ground was literally smoking. It drifted out of holes in the dirt where trees and stumps had once stood. Several trees were still on fi re; the fl ames still visible on the tops of

their remnants

resembled tiki torches. T e ash in the air hung like a visible cancer. As we opened the doors and stepped out of

the truck, I

immediately had a feeling we shouldn’t be there. We had no masks, no gloves, no real protection whatsoever. But, like an accident that you can’t turn away from, the rubble of our

former home drew us forward in

wide-eyed horror and sadness. When we had left our home, it was standing, with everything we owned intact. Now, all that remained was a mass of smoking debris. As we explored the wreckage and the

yard around it, we both just wandered in a shocked stupor, trying to fi nd anything of value. I started taking pictures of it all. We would need this

all documented for

insurance. Might as well start. As I came around what was left of the

kitchen exterior wall, I glimpsed something on the ground. I caught the unmistakable color of something vividly blue lying on the ground amidst a carpet of gray ash and burned debris. As I stepped over the bricks,

I recognized what it was right away. T ere was no mistaking it. It was a ceramic cross that had hung above the window over our kitchen sink, one of a trio of crosses, each diff erent, that we had bought years ago. T ere was no sign of the other two. T e blue cross was almost entirely intact, save for a missing corner piece. But most amazing was that the brick walls of the house had all fallen around the cross, not on top of it. It was face-up. T e lone survivor of the trio of crosses

had one word inscribed on it: “Blessed.” I caught my breath at the sight and called

out to Tracy. “Come here. You’ve got to see this.” Tracy came over by my side and stared in

amazement. It was no small wonder that the fi rst object we should fi nd intact upon returning to our home was a cross that proclaimed the message of Jesus, reminding us that we were indeed “blessed” to be alive, to be together, and in the care of the loving God of Creation! Humbled by a moment I knew I would

never forget, I felt the tears well up in my eyes. Nothing from here on would ever be quite the same.

• • •

One week later residents were offi cially allowed to return to their properties. Tracy

and I drove back to Circle D once again. T ere were many more people out and all the vehicles we passed were driving slowly, their passengers taking in the sights of an altered landscape and a forever-changed commun- ity. Pulling up to our house, the fi rst thing we noticed was that the house had been tagged. FEMA offi cials had spray painted a giant orange “X” on a surviving brick wall. As a video producer for the past several I’d seen similar tags before in


diff erent disasters that I’d covered, partic- ularly when shooting documentaries during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans. But this time I was on the other side of the story. My family and I were now “victims.” T at word sounded strange to me. We hadn’t

lost our lives. How were we

victims? In time, I would come to terms with the meaning of that role. Before the fi re, I always thought I knew how to empathize well with the victims I’d interviewed on camera. I realized that perhaps I hadn’t been as enlightened as I first thought. My perspective was changing as I was living out what it meant to be a victim myself. • • •

T e fi re continued to burn for weeks, but

the majority of it was contained by the end of September. Clean-up began slowly for us during that time. It proved emotional,

Left: Tim, Matthew, Tracy, and Benjamin Ristow feel blessed despite the loss of their home in the Bastrop wildfi res. Right: Tim’s brother, Dan, searches through the ashes and rubble for anything salvageable.

58 Volume 6 Issue 1 | TexasLiVE |

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