Bastrop, Texas, Residents Putting the Past Behind After Wildfire

By Mark Hanna | August 21, 2012

Gary Bonnette had traveled with his wife Cynthia and son Aaron to San Antonio to visit family members when he got a phone call saying his home was threatened by a huge wildfire. Neighbors say smoke was pouring over the Bonnette’s home like a river. Last year’s Labor Day fire would eventually engulf 34,000 acres of Bastrop’s pine forest, as well as 1,600 homes and claim the lives of two residents.

Within two hours of the phone call, Bonnette’s home was destroyed. Friends had retrieved the family’s three dogs, but were unable to save a cat inside. Bonnette’s home along with 12 others in their immediate neighborhood in the Tahitian Village were destroyed, while two homes were left unscathed.

Left with literally just the clothes on their back, the Bonnettes sought shelter and immediately began their recovery process. Gary filed his insurance claim the next day with his Allstate insurance agent. By day two, he was on the phone to a building contractor inquiring about constructing a new home.

“I’m not the type of guy who dwells on the past,” said Bonnette. “You can’t go back and do anything about what has happened. We just tried to resume life with as much normalcy as possible.”

Gary is a district court bailiff and before he could go back to work, he had to replace his badge, weapon, handcuffs and purchase new suits. From the day they were allowed back on their land Gary began building a security fence around his swimming pool and a privacy fence to outline his property.

The Bonnettes spent their first few weeks in a Bastrop bed and breakfast before moving into rental property that they owned. During this time Gary got to know his insurance agent Mark Lee and insurance adjuster Debra Tyson very well.

“I work at the courthouse and Mark Lee’s office is so close that I walk by it on a daily basis. He always had time for me. He was concerned about everything and wanted updates on how we were doing,” said Bonnette. “Mark is a home grown man and I can’t say enough about him and his agency.”

The Bonnettes lost two cars including a brand new jeep. Gary lost a new Harley Davidson motorcycle as well as a custom motorcycle. A safe that he thought was fire proof had burst open from the heat. Important papers and irreplaceable antiques inside were destroyed.

The Bonnettes received 100 percent reimbursement coverage for their home and contents. Gary said trying to verify what all they lost was emotionally difficult, but their insurance adjuster was very helpful and patient.

“I can’t say enough about Ms. Tyson,” said Bonnette. “She made sure our living expenses were taken care of and I had a good experience with everyone I dealt with at Allstate.”

By May 1, the Bonnette’s claim was settled and the family moved into their new home the next month. Gary is in the process of replacing his 100 foot loblolly pines that covered his yard. New pine and native live oak trees now dot the Bonnette landscape.

Hanna is the manager of public relations and membership for the Insurance Council of Texas.

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