State leaders recognize BCISD bus drivers for evacuating summer camp during wildfire

EDITOR DANIEL CLIFTON

State Sen. Dawn Buckingham commends the Burnet Consolidated Independent School District transportation staff Oct. 11 for their heroic and valiant work during a wildfire in July that forced the evacuation of 50-70 homes, 400 Inks Lakes State Park visitors, and 700 campers and staff at Camp Longhorn Indian Springs. Within an hour of BCISD officials requesting bus drivers to help evacuate Camp Longhorn Indian Springs, 14 drivers and staff responded. Staff photo by Daniel Clifton

State Sen. Dawn Buckingham commends the Burnet Consolidated Independent School District transportation staff Oct. 11 for their heroic and valiant work during a wildfire in July that forced the evacuation of 50-70 homes, 400 Inks Lakes State Park visitors, and 700 campers and staff at Camp Longhorn Indian Springs. Within an hour of BCISD officials requesting bus drivers to help evacuate Camp Longhorn Indian Springs, 14 drivers and staff responded. Staff photo by Daniel Clifton

As 14 Burnet Consolidated Independent School District buses rolled into the Camp Longhorn Indian Springs drive on Sunday, July 29, tears formed in camp director Nan Manning’s eyes.

In the previous 79 summers, Camp Longhorn had never faced a situation such as this: a mandatory evacuation because of a wildfire. Just hours before, an ATV traveling through tall grass on private land between Country Road 116 and Park Road 4 accidentally triggered the blaze.

“At first, we thought we would be okay,” said Manning, who is the daughter of camp founders Pat and Tex Robertson.

Authorities initially told camp officials it appeared the fire wouldn’t affect the Hoover’s Valley Road section of Camp Longhorn, but as the wind and other factors changed, so did the evacuation assessment. It wasn’t a choice; it was mandatory.

This presented a problem to Manning and Camp Longhorn Indian Springs staff. It was Sunday, and 500 new campers had arrived that afternoon from across the state. By the time the mandatory evacuation notice was issued, the campers and counselors were already spread across the facility.

Plus, with 500 campers and an additional 200 staff and counselors, it would take a major operation to evacuate Indian Springs, and a miracle.

The miracle was the BCISD bus drivers and Transportation Department staff who showed up to evacuate the camp.

“They were amazing,” Manning said. “The bus drivers were high-fiving kids as they got on the bus and saying ‘Are you ready for an adventure?’ The counselors, they did a great job, too. They had the kids singing songs on the bus.

“I’m so thankful for the bus drivers and the school district,” she added.

On Oct. 11, state Sen. Dawn Buckingham (District 24) and state Rep. Terry Wilson (District 20) honored the bus drivers and the district’s Transportation Department. Buckingham presented each of the drivers and Transportation Department leadership with a Texas Senate proclamation honoring their work that day in July.

“I just want to say thank you so much,” Buckingham said. “Can you imagine how those kids felt with those fires coming, the number of kids, and the speed with which everyone responded, all of the volunteers who jumped up on last-minute notice. Stuff like that doesn’t happen every day, and you’re an amazing community, and it’s a blessing to represent you, and I appreciate that.

As Buckingham read the proclamation, she paused where the document described how BCISD Superintendent Keith McBurnett and BCISD Transportation Director Josh Albro put out the word — during the summer — for at least 10 bus drivers, but 14 responded.

“Call for 10, more answered ready to go in an hour. That’s phenomenal. Y’all are amazing,” she told the bus drivers and staff gathered at the BCISD transpiration building for the presentation.

The proclamation describes the bus drivers as heroic, something with which Manning agreed.

But the response wasn’t out of the blue. The miracle actually started several weeks prior when Manning woke up one night plagued by a dream in which she saw campers running about as a fire approached. The dream bothered her enough that, at 2:38 a.m., she emailed her siblings, who are all connected with Camp Longhorn, and shared that they needed to come up with an evacuation plan.

Up until this point, Camp Longhorn, which operates three sites — Inks Lake (the original), Indian Springs, and C3 — didn’t have a plan in case of the need for a major evacuation. Her brother, Robby Robertson, who is a member of the BCISD Board of Trustees, contacted McBurnett, and they began formulating a plan.

“It took some time, maybe eight to ten days, to get it all worked out,” Manning said.

The camp got the thumbs-up for the plan Wednesday, July 25 — four days before the Park Road 4 fire and mandatory evacuation.

“As a person of faith, I think God has a hand in everything,” Buckingham said during her presentation, pointing out the evacuation plan came together thanks to Manning’s dream and the camp and school district’s efforts.

Once the 700 campers, counselors, and staff were aboard, the bus drivers transported them to Camp Longhorn C3, located on the west side of Inks Lake and out of harm’s way. The C3 facility had just wrapped up a camp, so it was vacant but offered all the facilities the campers and staff needed. The kids grabbed a change of clothes, a pillow, and blankets before leaving Indian Springs.

“You know what, the local dentists all donated toothpaste and toothbrushes for the campers,” Manning recalled. “And other businesses and community members helped out.”

Despite the move to C3, the campers enjoyed a full day of activities on Monday, July 30, before authorities cleared it for everyone to return to Indian Springs the next day.

“It was pretty amazing,” Manning said as she thought about those three days and the BCISD bus drivers pulling up to get them all to safety. “This is the second time I’ve told them thank you, and I’ll probably keep telling them.”

Go to camplonghorn.com for more information on the camp.

daniel@thepicayune.com

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