It was late afternoon this past Sunday when I saw the smoke rising from the front of Steiner Ranch, a community in Austin, TX where I moved with my family in November 2010.
It looked like the fire was a couple miles away, so I went to Twitter and searched for Steiner fire. There were a lot of people Tweeting and the flames were getting bigger.
We decided to grab some clothes and essentials (me: laptop, phone, iPad) and evacuate just in case the fire spread our way.
A couple hours later, I got an email from the Steiner Ranch HOA that there was a mandatory evacuation. By that time, we were safely settled in a hotel and I was monitoring my original Twitter search, as well as a couple hashtags (steiner fire OR #centraltxfires OR #txfire).
And I started seeing some action on the Facebook group, Steiner Ranch Social Committee.
Suddenly, the distance from our home and the unknown became a little easier.
Over the course of two days of our evacuation, helpful people on Twitter and Facebook were relaying all sorts of helpful information and resources that we weren’t finding in the TV coverage.
There were people who stayed behind and were running to addresses as they were requested in Facebook to report on the status of houses and to rescue pets. Simply amazing stuff.
This information, combined with aerial photos and videos that were shared online, was used to compile a crowdsourced map of fire damage in Steiner Ranch on Google Maps.
In the end, we were lucky. Our house was untouched. But twenty four homes were destroyed and another thirty or so were damaged.
We were able to return to the neighborhoods yesterday, but the real essence of the community was kicking in before that. Churches, businesses, groups, and individuals have been banding together to help one another.
Steiner Ranch resident Paul O’Brien, who spoke at a recent Affiliate Summit Austin Meetup at the UT Golf Club, created a wiki for Steiner Ranch to enable the community to organize and help one another.
The wiki features information on how and where to donate items, how to volunteer, and other resources.
So many people are in need, and it seems like just as requests for help are posted, numerous people race in to help online and offline.
I’ve heard about benefit concerts being planned, and so many people helping out that I can’t keep up.
And, of course, no thank you is big enough for the firefighters and other countless heroes who worked so hard and risked so much to fight the wildfires.
I did just see that HEB & Stubbs BBQ will be hosting a lunch for the people of Steiner Ranch, firefighters, EMS, Travis County Sherriff, and anybody else that wants to join. I look forward to personally thanking all of these great people… great neighbors.
Thanks to all of the old and new friends that shared resources, information and well wishes.