BASTROP, Texas (KXAN) - One year after the the largest fire in Texas history killed two people and destroyed close to 1,700 homes, some Bastrop County deputies, whose heroic actions were captured on video that first day, are sharing their memories for the first time.
"When I arrived -- before I even got on scene -- I could see the smoke on Highway 71 and the fire was a good probably 5 miles away," said Deputy Stephen Cantwell. "Is was a big fire and it was windy and it was moving fast."
Cantwell was one of the first on scene, along with Deputy Lee Ward and Cpl. Raymond Reyes. Almost immediately, they knew they couldn't fight the fire. But Ward tried, using the fire extinguisher from his patrol car.
"Fires were falling in front of the houses and yards and we were going around spraying those," said Ward. "That's about the time we looked behind us and saw that wall of fire that basically was higher than the pine trees."
Early on, the deputies started evacuating people from their homes and going door to door in many cases.
"We just got in the cars got on the PAs telling everybody -- get out -- now -- if you can hear us -- get out now," said Ward. "We tried going house to house making sure everybody was out -- passing people leaving, going in -- it was pretty scary. You didn't know what to think and at that point in time, you didn't have time to think."
Cantwell remembers coming across a woman who could not evacuate on her own and was very worried about her dog. He was able to save them both by putting them in his patrol car and driving them out of the fire area.
"You're hoping that everybody is leaving when you knock on the door, that they either hear you or they're already gone," said Cantwell.
Reyes got up-close and personal with the fire when he got a call that someone was trapped inside a home off of State Highway 21. His patrol car camera captures the moment when a transformer explodes in front of him and sends debris raining down on his patrol car.
"I drove through it to see if I could get a glance of that address and make my way up to that residence. Unfortunately, I couldn't see the addresses and a lot of the mailboxes were gone," said Reyes. "Very scary and a lot of things go through your mind -- like, 'Am I going to make it?' and then you start thinking about family members, things of that nature."
The deputies worked 12-hour shifts for the next 21 days. They have watched the community begin to heal.
"They're going to re-grow, rebuild -- I believe it's going to turn out good," said Ward.
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