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Texas County Recovering from Wildfires

Bastrop County, in the southern U.S. state of Texas, was hit by the most destructive wildfires in the state's history earlier this year. More than 1,600 homes were wiped out and the state park was decimated. Now, Bastrop State Park is working hard to bring its woods back to life, by securing the area, controlling soil erosion and replanting trees. Our reporter went to the park to find out what can be done to reverse the impacts of wildfires.

Page Handy is using a chain saw to cut up fallen trees at Bastrop State Park.

She is a volunteer working hard to bring the park to life.

The first step is making the park safe for visitors.

"What we're doing is taking out hazard trees," said Handy. "So, anything that is burnt out a lot at the base, that has a high risk of falling over in wind or anything like that. And, we're also working on burned down walkways because the fire just like totally eliminated trail features, water drains and things like that. "
Handy is part of a team of volunteers working to rejuvenate Bastrop Park. Ninety-six percent of it was hit by wildfires in September.

Some trees survived and still stand tall with green foliage.
But many areas have been destroyed. Charcoal black trunks are all that remain.
The park's site manager, Roger Dolle, says rejuvenation is beginning.
"Once we have the park safe and at least most of it open for visitors to come out and enjoy, hopefully get some revenue back into the park, the next big step is going to be erosion control," said Dolle.

Dolle says protecting the soil from rain and wind is a big project. That done, new trees will be planted.

They have more than one million seeds to plant. But Dolle says drought in Texas could last years and that creates problems for growth.

"It would be really bad for us to go ahead and put these 1.1 million, or however many seedlings we do get out of these seeds, in the ground and for them all to die because of lack of rainfall and moisture," he said. "So, we have to wait for rain and a lot of it."
The whole process will take longer than Dolle's own lifetime.

"It's going to be probably 10-20 years before this park gets back to something that looks more or less like a park, mostly greens where you won't really see black anymore," said Dolle. "A lot of the erosion will be taken care of. A lot of the ground cover will be back. And we are looking at probably 50 to 100 years before we get the pine trees back to the way they were three months ago."

Environmental worker Eric Hudson says it's a long process but nature is resilient.
"The human impact of wildfires is really devastating," said Hudson. "People lose their houses and it's really tough, really tragic. But ecosystems like this are adapted to have wildfires. The severity changes. The severity of this one is very high and so it has an impact but this eco-system has seen this before. We tend to see things on a human time scale and that may not be applicable here."

He says, with time and hard work, the trees and the park will revive.