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Energy & Environment

More Than Half Of Homes In Travis County Are At Risk Of Wildfire. Here's What You Should Know.

A view of neighborhoods in high wildfire risk areas in West Austin.
Julia Reihs
/
KUT
A view of neighborhoods in high wildfire risk areas in West Austin.

Austin and Travis County officials are asking folks to do their part to prepare for potential wildfires.

“I think we all know our climate is changing, our region is becoming hotter and drier and the threat of increased wildfires is very real,” said Travis County Commissioner Brigid Shea during a Wednesday night town hall to discuss wildfire risk in the region.

About 65% of homes in Travis County and over 49% in Austin are at risk of wildfire, according to Justice Jones, the wildfire mitigation officer at the Austin Fire Department.

“Half of our communities could be impacted by a wildfire given extreme conditions,” he said. “So, we want to encourage our community and residents to take action and ensure that they are appropriately reducing that risk.”

Austin and Travis County leadership adopted a Community Wildfire Protection Plan in 2014. The plan requires a combination of agencies, communities and residents to work together to confront the threat of wildfires, Jones said. The goal is to become a “fire-adapted” community, meaning a community that can withstand the effects of wildfire without deaths or loss of property.

Wildfires in the Austin area occur during drought conditions. Fires happen every year in the eastern portion of the county after the first winter freeze when the grass has dried out, Jones said. They occur less frequently in the western portion of the county, where there are more open woodlands, but they can still be fairly intense.

Since buildings and homes in Austin are often built close to one another, Jones said, the fire department’s biggest concern is that a wildfire could quickly move from wildlands into residential areas.

“We know this is possible because this is what we saw during the 2011 fire season,” Jones said.

Several fires broke out in Central Texas on Labor Day in 2011, destroying more than 1,600 homes in Bastrop County and killing two people. The fires also burned 7,000 acres in Travis County, destroying 57 homes.

The Austin-Travis County Wildfire Coalition has created the website wildfirecoalition.org to serve as an information hub on how people can make their community safer.

The site has a number of guides such as:

A home’s proximity to wildlands impacts its risk of being affected by a wildfire. This map from the city of Austin allows users to search their property to see its proximity to wildlands.

Will Boettner, the education outreach coordinator at the Travis County Fire Marshal’s office, said he encourages residents to protect their own properties by taking actions like managing their vegetation. He also said people can call the county for a home ignition zone assessment, which will help them determine how vulnerable a structure is to a fire.

“You have control of your house,” he said. “You don’t have control of your neighbors’ house. You don’t have control of the wildlands outside the fence line. You have your house. You can change how your house is set up to be protected against wildfire.”

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