AUSTIN, Tex. (Reuters) - Since wildfire plowed through Possum Kingdom State Park in April, park ranger Carolyn Mallory's job has involved clearing burned debris from park cabins, restrooms and storage facilities.
But even when the 14-year Texas Parks and Wildlife Department veteran is off work, the aftermath of the fire consumes her focus. Mallory's mobile home a few miles from the park has been uninhabitable since wildfire burned its entire back wall on April 15, and she spends her time dealing with insurance agents and electricians.
On Wednesday in Austin, hundreds of state employees and others gathered for a Texas-style barbecue to raise money for Mallory and three park employees whose homes were destroyed in the April wildfires that burned 95 percent of Possum Kingdom State Park and 25 percent of Davis Mountains State Park.
"It's very humbling because a lot of these people, I do not even know," Mallory said by phone from Possum Kingdom State Park west of Dallas.
Statewide, wildfires have burned more than 2.2 million acres this year and destroyed more than 400 homes, according to the Texas Forest Service.
Wildfire can be beneficial for ranchland and wildlife habitat, but it's another story when personal property is involved, said Texas Parks and Wildlife Department executive director Carter Smith.
"We had our state park personnel and state game wardens out there on the front lines, fighting these wildfires," Smith said. "And then to have four of them experience catastrophic and personal loss was just devastating to us."
Possum Kingdom park ranger Scott Parrish was actively working to fight the wildfires when fire destroyed his own home near the park, said department spokesman Mike Cox.
And in West Texas, Davis Mountains State Park administrative specialist Ginger McGough's 130-year old home was destroyed while she was getting her nails done on an April Saturday.
"I had the most beautiful nails, but only the clothes on my back and my car to my name," said McGough, one of two employees of Davis Mountains State Park who lost their homes to fire.
"I took a couple of pictures of the house burning and cried a little bit."
FAMILY TREASURES GONE
McGough, who has worked for the department for 18 years, lost all her family treasures in the home, where she grew up and where her parents and grandparents once lived. Gone are her mother's handmade afghans, her grandmother's crocheted tablecloths and her father's record player.
Her cattle survived, as did her Pomeranian, Doolie. But she hasn't found her cat, Mouse. And her blue heeler, Chocolate Chip, died two weeks ago because of lung damage suffered in the fire, she said.
McGough and the other employees affected by the fires weren't in Austin on Wednesday for the barbecue at the department headquarters, where state employees and others -- including former George W. Bush adviser Karl Rove, who is on the board of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Foundation -- came to support the cause.
Attendees sat outside at picnic tables eating brisket -- volunteers cooked some 300 pounds overnight -- as well as sausage, chicken, coleslaw, potato salad and beans. The department sold more than 500 of the $5 lunches.
At a table filled with homemade goodies, pineapple upside-down cake and other desserts were available for additional donations.
The department expects to raise more than $3,000 from the barbecue for its employee relief fund, which will benefit the four employees affected by the fires as well as workers affected by future disasters. The fund had already raised $45,000, and the Grainger Foundation on Wednesday announced it is donating an additional $10,000.
(Editing by Jerry Norton)