The home of John and Lisa Whitt was reduced to ashes in the Bastrop Labor Day fire in Texas last year, but today, they feel like they have received more than they lost.
The Whitts had 15 minutes to get everything they could while a huge cloud of smoke was growing and falling embers were landing all around their home. John grabbed two pedal steel guitars and amplifiers, while his wife Lisa and daughter Crystal grabbed baby pictures, important papers and a cat. All three took separate vehicles as they traveled more than an hour and a half using rarely used back roads to get to safety.
The family drove to a motel in San Marcos, because John said if the fire had turned westward, the entire town of Bastrop could have gone up in flames. In San Marcos, John got the first call from his insurance agent asking if they were okay. The call came from Penny Glass of Texas Farm Bureau who keeps the phone numbers of all of her clients on her cell phone. As a new agent it would be Glass’ first total loss claim coming from one of her first clients. It would be the first of many calls that Glass would make to the family.
Within hours of the fire, Texas Farm Bureau was making arrangements to get emergency cash to the Whitts to take care of out of pocket expenses. “We could not have asked for any better service,” Whitt said.
The Whitts lived on the east side of Tahitian Village that was hardest hit by what would become the costliest wildfire in Texas history. It would be 11 days before John would get the opportunity to see his home. He did not go alone. He had with him his insurance adjuster, Joe Long of the Texas Farm Bureau.
Whitt rummaged through what remained of his home while Long took photographs of the destruction. The two remained at the site for only 20 minutes before returning to Bastrop. In Bastrop that afternoon, Long asked John to prepare a list of the contents in his house and to meet him back at a local hotel in two hours.
With an unfinished content list in hand, the Whitts met Long and received checks for both their dwelling and content loss.
The Whitts have been receiving additional living expense checks while staying in an apartment complex while their new home is being built at the original site. They plan to move in to their new home shortly after Labor Day.
“The Texas Farm Bureau has treated us like kings and we had only been with them a short time,” said Whitt. “We had full replacement coverage on the house and contents and they paid it. They said they were not going to make this any harder on us than it already was and they did exactly what they said.”
John said there are several stories that you don’t hear about the Bastrop fire.
“The Bealls Department Store opened their doors for anyone to come in and pick out new clothes. They continued their fire relief effort for weeks,” Whitt said. “The local HEB grocery store and Home Depot also made huge donations to the fire victims.”
“It has been a humbling experience when people walk up to you and say, ‘Here, you need this.’ We had an outpouring of just good people who came and wanted to help just because they felt bad for you,” Whitt said.
Lisa Whitt comes from a long line of cooks and the Whitts made a point to have an extra special kitchen built in their new home. “There won’t be another one like it on the face of the earth,” John said. “I told her we would build the kitchen first and if there was any money left, we would build the rest of the house.”
Hanna is the manager of public relations and membership for the Insurance Council of Texas.