This presentation was part of A Century of Design in the Parks Symposium, Santa Fe, New Mexico, June 21-23, 2016.
By Frances Gale, Cynthia Brandimarte, Casey Gallagher, and Dennis Gerow
During September, 2011, a massive wildfire in Central Texas consumed over 30,000 acres and destroyed nearly 1,700 structures. The Bastrop Complex Wildfire was the largest wildland-urban interface fire in Texas history and the third largest nationally. In its path was Bastrop State Park, home to a National Historic Landmark collection of 1930’s Civilian Conservation Corps cabins and other structures. Bastrop State Park is located in the “Lost Pines” area of central Texas, and CCC workers harvested local timber and quarried nearby sandstone to construct the park’s many rustic-style structures. Architect Arthur Fehr, who directed most of the CCC work at the park, embraced the design principles of the National Park Service, emphasizing harmony with the surrounding landscape.
Although the 2011 fire devastated most of the forested area of Bastrop State Park, firefighters saved the historic sandstone cabins and most of the CCC facilities. Two overlook structures, located in the path of the fire, lost their timber framed roofs and wooden shakes. Our recent NCPTT grant project focused on investigating the effects of the 2011 wildfire on cultural resources of Bastrop State Park and providing recommendations for preparing historic structures for future wildfires. To accomplish our work, we made site visits to inspect conditions, conducted interviews with Bastrop State Park firefighters, reviewed previous research on fire damage to cultural materials, carried out laboratory testing and surveyed disaster preparedness and recovery strategies used by state, federal and international organizations.
As historic preservation specialists trained in materials conservation, one goal of our project was to better understand the wildfire’s impact on historic structures. Using the USDA Forest Service’s system for classifying the impacts of wildfire on cultural resources, we identified direct, operational and indirect effects. Direct impacts are those caused by the fire itself or byproducts such as smoke. In Bastrop State Park, the damage to the scenic overlooks is an example. Operational impacts are caused by fire management actions to extinguish fires, including fire line construction and the fire retardant drops that were used nearby. Indirect impacts occur as a result of fire-induced changes to the sites where cultural resources are located. Erosion due to loss of vegetation cover is an example of an indirect impact; in Bastrop State Park deterioration of several sandstone culverts appears to be the result of soil erosion and associated flooding.
Our presentation will cover our investigation of the effects of the 2011 wildfire on Bastrop State Park culture resources and the guidelines that we developed for preparing for future wildfires. We will emphasize the importance of assembling a team of firefighters and historic preservation specialists that can establish priority areas for prescribed burns, develop strategies for improving communication during a wildfire, and balance fire prevention strategies with maintaining historical integrity of the sites.
Frances Gale is Senior Lecturer and Conservation Scientist at the University of Texas in Austin where she teaches materials conservation at the School of Architecture and directs the Architectural Conservation Laboratory. Fran also works with the University Office of Campus Planning and Facilities Management on campus projects involving historic buildings and monuments. Her recent consulting projects include the University of Virginia Rotunda, Vanderbilt Mansion National Historic Site and historic cemeteries at Cape Lookout National Seashore. Prior to her position at the University of Texas, Fran worked for the National Park Service and in private practice.
Casey Gallagher is a historic preservation and materials conservation consultant in private practice. Casey holds a Master of Science degree in Historic Preservation from the University of Texas at Austin. Casey has worked as an architectural conservator on several projects for Texas Parks and Wildlife, and has researched projects for the Texas Governor’s Mansion, The City of Austin, and Volz and Associates. She has worked as a preservation consultant for several Tax Credit rehabilitations, and as a program specialist for the Texas Historical Commission’s cemetery preservation division.
Cynthia Brandimarte earned a Ph.D. in American Studies at the University of Texas at Austin. She joined TPWD State Parks Division as an historian and later became the first Director of the Cultural Resources Program. She is the author of the award-winning book, Inside Texas: Culture, Identity, and Houses, 1878-1920 and Texas State Parks and the CCC: the Legacy of the Civilian Conservation Corps. Her articles on Texas history have appeared in the Southwestern Historical Quarterly and Journal for Big Bend Studies and in Winterthur Portfolio: A Journal of American Material Culture on whose Editorial Board she currently serves.
Dennis Gerow is a historical architect for the Historic Sites and Structures Program in the State Parks division of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. He has been with TPWD since November 1990, and his major collaborative projects include Port Isabel Lighthouse, Goliad State Park Mission, Franklin Mountains State Park, Indian Lodge in Davis Mountains State Park, and the San Jacinto Monument. Gerow provides technical assistance for proposed work affecting historic sites and parks, and serves as a liaison between Texas Parks and Wildlife and the State Historic Preservation Office.