Hidden Pines Fire victims unlikely to get federal aid

Texas Army National Guard Blackhawk assisting with Hidden Pines Fire
A Texas Army National Guard UH-60 Blackhawk out of the Austin Army Aviation Facility helps fight wild fires threatening homes and property near Bastrop, Texas, Oct. 14, 2015. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Sgt. 1st Class Malcolm McClendon).

BASTROP COUNTY, Texas (KXAN) — In the wake of the Hidden Pines wildfire, KXAN has learned Bastrop County, and those who lost their homes, are unlikely to receive federal aid.

“In regards to uninsured losses for the Bastrop fire, it is not expected that the eligible expenses and damages will meet or exceed the federally mandated public assistance or individual assistance thresholds and criteria,” Press Secretary for the Texas Department of Public Safety Tom Vinger said via email.

FEMA determines that threshold.

Vinger explained, “Small Business Administration damage assessments have been conducted to help determine whether low-interest loans will be available to rebuild homes and businesses that suffered uninsured damages.”

For Natalie Brown and her family, life is different now. They’re living with her sister in Pflugerville, displaced after losing their house in the Hidden Pines fire. The 5-month-old home is now little more than singed memories. Aside from insurance and any donations, they’re on their own, without the help of federal agencies like FEMA.

“It’s definitely upsetting. Because while we – thankfully we were insured well enough that it will pay to rebuild the home, not much of our contents will be replaced. So, yes we’ll have a house, but we won’t have much of anything to put in it,” Brown said. “Even just to live life, you need pots and pans and linens and a bed and all that stuff we have to replace – I don’t know where that money’s going to come from.”

KXAN met with Brown as she played with her daughter at a nearby park. She said, “I’ve been trying my best to keep as much of the normal routine for my daughter as possible.” Normalcy. It’s something Brown has been striving for the last two years. “Statistics say that it’ll be great that if I make it to my 2-year-old daughter’s kindergarten.”

In 2013, Brown was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer.

“It had already spread,” Brown recalled, to her bones. “At this point, the statistics say 2-3 years is average. I know women who have beat that and I intend to beat it. I’m already at over 2 years, so I’m beating it already and I intend to be here for a long time.”

It’s that spirit that’s carrying Brown through a second loss, of her home.

“There were some similarities. It’s like life as you know it is completely altered,” Brown said.

“I don’t know how long I have, and it’s not worth it to focus on those things,” Brown said, referring to material items. “You have to live in the moment and so it’s just stuff. It can be replaced and we’ll move on.”

Those who would like to help the Brown family can do so here.

For more information on help and ways to donate, contact the Bastrop County Long Term Recovery Team.

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