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Friday, May 31 • 8:30am - 8:45am
(Architecture) Learning from the Bastrop Wildfire: Effects of Wildfire on Historic Material

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On September 4th, 2011, the most destructive wildfire in Texas history ignited in Bastrop County and continued to burn for more than a month afterwards. By the end, 720 acres were burned and 1,723 structures destroyed. One of the casualties of the fire was Bastrop State Park—a park founded in 1933, and developed by companies of the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) as part of Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal. CCC constructions in the park include day use buildings (e.g. refectory, bath house), a set of maintenance buildings, and cabins as well as smaller structures including two overlooks and several culverts built into the park’s main road. All are built in the National Park Service Rustic style, and demonstrate a singular commitment to craftsmanship. In the Bastrop Complex fire—while wildland firefighters managed under great duress to coax the fire away from the cabins and day use buildings—both overlooks and all culverts were burned. The overlooks, load-bearing masonry structures, which lost their wooden roofs in the fire and suffered unknown structural damage, have since been re-roofed and the culverts are deteriorating with the post-fire effects of increased vegetation and soil erosion.

This paper will explore two aspects of cultural resources affected by the Bastrop fire: first, the potential long term effects of fire damage on sandstone of Bastrop park structures and second, suggestions for preventative measures to protect sandstone in the event of future fires. While stone is not readily combustible, it can be damaged by fire both superficially with color change and spalling, and structurally with weakened compressive strength. In a study of sandstone, Monika Hajpal, of the Laboratory of Building Physics at Budapest University of Technology and Economics, found that burned sandstone will gain porosity and lose density—a fundamental material change that can weaken the stone’s ability to support weight. This paper will give results of testing to determine the condition of structures currently, and how they may be weakened again in future events.

Preventative measures that park staff can use in preparing for the next wildfire include increased defensible space, and fire retardants. Increased and regular pruning of bushes and trees around the cabins has both positive and negative effects for the CCC buildings: defensible space is a proven measure in fire fighting and would save precious time and energy for fire fighters in the next wildfire event. Opposed to this is the original design intention of CCC architects, which subordinated structures to their environment, making them appear as part of natural features. Bastrop fire managers also did not use fire retardants on cultural resources, and this paper will present any deleterious effects of retardants on Bastrop materials and possible cleaning methods.


Miriam Tworek-Hofstetter

Graduate Student, University of Texas, Austin

Friday May 31, 2013 8:30am - 8:45am EDT
JW Marriott 103-104 19 S West St Indianapolis, IN 46204

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