The Steiner Ranch fires unfolding on Sept. 4, 2011

The Labor Day weekend fires started on September 4, 2011 and raged through Steiner Ranch. File photo

Republishing this article from a decade ago by Four Points News and reporter Leslee Bassman.

Sunday, 4:00 P.M. – Vandegrift High School junior Jake Spasaro opens up Facebook and reads about a fire in Steiner Ranch. Spasaro, a resident of Canyon Glen, alerts his father and the two walk outside to investigate. After being told to evacuate by police patrolling the area, the family picks up neighbor Bailey Phillips in the Plateau section and drive to a friend’s house by the fire station. Spasaro flees with only the clothes he is wearing. Thirty minutes after arriving at what the group believes is a safe haven, Spasaro’s family is once again evacuated.

Sunday, 4: 30 P.M. – John Jee, at home in the area surrounding Laura Welch Bush Elementary School, receives a call from his child. Jee’s nine-year old Jordan was on his way home from a party when he told John of the “big smoke out by the [shopping] center”.

“I thought I better get my stuff immediately,” said Jee. Fifteen minutes later, the Sheriff’s Office told Jee that the evacuation was mandatory now so he grabbed pictures, computers and a couple of days worth of clothes. Traffic was beginning to back up to get out of the subdivision.

Sunday, 4:40 P.M. – The Seitzler family sees lots of smoke as they drive down Quinlan Park Road with a car full of birthday presents. They were coming home from a 9-year-old ice skating birthday party for their oldest. They stopped off at Steiner Ranch Elementary to try to see what was happening or where the source of the smoke was but it wasn’t clear at the time. They got home and immediately found out from a neighbor about the evacuation. Their two young daughters grabbed stuffed animals. The family expected to be back later that night and went to ACF initially to wait it out. But then later stayed with a family in River Place.

Sunday, 4:45 P.M. – Greg Kodra climbs up on a deck and sees a house on fire in the back of the Plateau. “I saw 20-foot flames going across the ridge,” Kodra said. Kodra and wife Janet gather their family together and pray.

“Then we grabbed photo albums but it was not enough,” said Janet.

Sunday, 5:00 P.M. – Being Labor Day weekend, Majestic Oaks’ Cathryn Wheatley is enjoying the lake on her family’s boat when she notices smoke in the area. When Wheatley reaches shore, other boaters inform her of the fire. Upon returning home, the Wheatley family hears a propane tank exploding as they quickly pack their belongings and head out.

Sunday, 5:15 P.M. – Austin Christian Fellowship and St. Luke’s on the Lake Episcopal Church open doors to Steiner Ranch evacuees.

Sunday, 6:00 P.M. – Chaparral resident Hilarie Finfrock moved from Dallas to Steiner Ranch about a year ago, only to wind up at ACF’s evacuation site on Sunday evening. “It’s coming through the trails,” said Finfrock of the spreading wildfire. Finfrock’s husband manages to save their pets, family’s birth certificates, daughter’s Legacy uniform and some important documents. 

Sunday, 6:30 P.M. – Leslie Roberge, stuck in traffic on Quinlan Park Road near Steiner Ranch Elementary School, sends out a post on her Facebook status, “Steiner Ranch burning! We’re evacuating.”

Sunday, 7:00 P.M. – Local Austin merchants reach out to the Four Points community with food, water and shelter.

Sunday, 8:00 P.M. – Numerous vehicles pull over and park on a hill crest off River Place Road to view smoke billowing above Steiner Ranch in the night sky.

Monday, 12:00 P.M. – Austin Mayor Lee Leffingwell informs local media and Steiner Ranch residents that the fire is only 20% contained and homeowners will not be allowed into the subdivision until at least Tuesday morning. 

“We just got stretched so thin so quickly,” said Travis County Sheriff’s Office Chief Deputy Jim Sylvester of the department’s resources during a weekend in which several local wildfires were being fought simultaneously.

Monday, 12:30 P.M. – Steiner Ranch resident Laura Machado receives a call from a local pastor who was trying to rescue stranded animals in the subdivision. The pastor reports that he’s been unable to reach Machado’s seven-year old gray Tabby. Machado was not home when evacuations were ordered for Steiner Ranch and has been unable to return to retrieve her cat. 

Monday, 1:00 P.M. – Robert Barron presses officials for news on the health of the Longhorn Village residents who remained at the site. Barron is concerned about his blind 71-year-old father who lives in the retirement community. “We have a place for him to stay but he’s stuck there and can’t get out,” said Barron. “I can’t say I’m overly worried; the fire’s not near him but things can change.”

Monday, 2:30 P.M. – LISD Superintendent Brett Champion sends a recorded telephone message to students’ homes stating that all Steiner Ranch schools are cancelled for Tuesday as well as Four Points Middle School and Vandegrift High School which is serving as an evacuation shelter.