Wildfire Evacuees Pause for a Breath at Lake Conroe KOA

Scott Ross had held out past the wildfire evacuation order. The father of six didn't want to leave his place at Southall Drive and FM 1486 to looters and in his case, it wasn't idle speculation. He'd already had a guy run out from under his raised house.

"But the fire flared up about 7:30, 8 o'clock last night. It jumped across the street yesterday afternoon. There was a tidal wave of fire," he said.

Momentarily defeated, he loaded up his vehicles with his six kids and his mother and made a late-night drive to the KOA campground by Lake Conroe and the next morning, like a lot of other folks staying somewhat unexpectedly there, he was exchanging evacuee stories.

The 50-acre campground at Lake Conroe is ranked in the top 2 percent of KOA campgrounds in Canada and the United States, manager Aaron B. Williamson said. Its grounds are immaculate, and it boasts an indoor swimming pool and hot tub, two dog parks, horseshoe pits and shuffleboard and wi-fi -- among other things.

But Saturday morning as campers got up and walked around, the constant refrain was people declaring they were or weren't evacuees and asking the status of the people they met.

There was a husband-wife minister team, packing up their motor home after six months of working in the Montgomery County area. A woman in her RV said she was traveling the country with her show dogs, six Dobermans.

But others came from neighboring towns, settled for a few days in their own RVs, air-conditioned lodges or more rustic cabins, staking out space in what is usually a slow season for this family-oriented KOA, after Labor Day and before the Texas Renaissance Festival kicks up in nearby Plantersville.

Williamson said he and his wife had walked the line of cars parked outside roadblocks to FM 1486, telling them of the campground, offering them a place to stay. He said the campground itself is safe from the spreading fires. "It's not going to get to us. It's six, six and a half miles away."

Bill Starke said he'd lived in his house off Nicholsaw Road for 35 years without ever experiencing a wildfire like this one. He'd left last Tuesday, headed to Hempstead but it was so smoky there, he'd moved over to the KOA camp.

"They still won't let us go in," he said.

Ross figured they'd be staying at least two to three days before they could go back home and see what was there. They'd taken as much as they could of their possessions, crammed into any space available. Even in all the rush to get out, they'd paused for a moment, he said.

"We laid hands on the house, said a prayer and drove away. We held out as long as we could."

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