LBJ photographer rebuilds life after fire

Tamir Kalifa

The barrel of a Winchester .30-30-caliber lever-action rifle rests on a bed of ash and debris made up of what was once the house of 61-year-old Charles Bogel. This portion of his father’s “Golden Spike Commemorative Rifle” is one of the few remnants of Bogel’s past. The rest of his possessions were incinerated by the wildfire that destroyed more than 1,500 homes and 35,000 acres in Bastrop.

Three weeks after the wildfire consumed his home, Bogel, the LBJ Library staff photographer and an audio video specialist of 22 years, drafted his insurance claim with an auditor on a partly-cloudy Saturday morning. The roof, shingles, walls, shattered glass, furniture, signed and framed photographs of Bogel with presidents, politicians, actors and athletes crumble beneath their feet, releasing plumes of ash as if the house were wheezing.

Bogel said he tries to make the best of the situation. The auditor informed him that he will be compensated for his 1.3 acres of damaged trees. He lets out a jovial, Homer Simpson-esque call, “Woohoo! You hear that trees?” as if to reassure the forest. Minutes later, he laughed at the absurdity of finding his microwave where the living room used to be.

Bogel said he did not realize when he fled his house on Sept. 4 that he would never return to it. Yet despite losing almost everything, he remains resilient as he starts to rebuild his life.

“There, early on, you are just living from day to day,” Bogel said. “You don’t know what you’re doing. You don’t remember half of what people have told you. You don’t remember half of what you’ve read, but you just keep plugging away and slowly, you’re getting a grasp of things. You’re getting a handle on things and what you’re doing.”

After spending two weeks at a hotel filing insurance claims and searching for a new home, Bogel found an apartment in South Austin. He moved in, and with the help of his friend Karen Ferguson, bought almost everything he needed from Wal-Mart in less than an hour. The trip seemed more like two college students shopping for dorm room supplies rather than the first steps in a new direction of his life.

“I’ve always had a positive outlook, a cheerful spirit, a happy soul however you want to term it,” Bogel said. “The fire doesn’t take that away from me. It burned up the tangible hard copy things but I’m still me. I still giggle like a school girl at ridiculous things.”

Printed on September 30, 2011 as: Rebuilding what's lost