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Austin, Travis County issue disaster declaration amid wildfire threat

Austin Price
The Central Texas area has been at elevated fire risk for days. City leaders say the disaster declaration helps the city prepare and respond to damage.

Austin and Travis County declared a disaster on Tuesday as the risk of wildfires continues.

Mayor Kirk Watson and Travis County Judge Andy Brown said the move helps expedite the process for receiving aid.

“A disaster declaration helps us to be further prepared in the event of a wildfire and in the event of wildfire damage,” Watson said. “It allows us to be able to move quickly to access necessary resources to help with any recovery.”

The declaration allows the city and county to use available state resources to respond to wildfires, such as preparing an emergency shelter for evacuees.

Gov. Greg Abbott on Friday issued a disaster declaration for about 75% of Texas counties, including Travis County, in response to widespread wildfire activity.

Last week, several wildfires broke out across the Central Texas area, including a fire that left several Cedar Park families without a home.

The Texas A&M Forest Service reported six active wildfires across the state Tuesday afternoon — none of them in Central Texas.

Still, local officials say residents should be ready, as the region heads into Day 40 of temperatures above 100 degrees with little to no rain.

“That is a historic streak,” Watson said. “So we are as vulnerable as we have ever been to the threat of wildfire.”

The area has been at elevated wildfire risk for days. The National Weather Service expects dangerously hot temperatures and heat index values through next weekend.

City officials said Tuesday the best thing residents can do is be prepared and find ways to keep areas clear from debris and other fire hazards.

Austin Fire Chief Joel Baker said residents can take a number of steps to prevent a fire, including not firing up the grill or parking on dry grass, and properly disposing of cigarettes. He said removing dry vegetation such as brush and leaves, and moving patio furniture away from homes also helps.

“Now is the time for everyone to prepare,” Baker said. “For not what if, but for when it happens.”

City and county officials said they are creating a plan if residents need to evacuate; signing the declaration on Tuesday helps the area prepare.

The risk for heat-related illness also remains a concern. City leaders said Tuesday residents should stay hydrated and out of the sun. The city has a misting tent and water bottle station at Republic Square Park in downtown Austin. More than 6,000 people have benefitted from the program since it began in July, Ken Snipes director for Austin’s Homeland Security and Emergency Management, said.

Luz Moreno-Lozano is the Austin City Hall reporter at KUT. Got a tip? Email her at Follow her on X @LuzMorenoLozano.
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