Hot, dry, and windy. That is the prediction for this year’s wildfire season which starts in May and continues through the fall. These three conditions can have devastating effects as Central Texas residents discovered during 2011 when numerous wildfires started throughout the region including the Bastrop Complex Fire in Bastrop County, the Steiner Ranch Fire in Travis County, and the Moonglow Fire in Williamson County. Fire and emergency management officials in the Capital Area Council of Governments (CAPCOG) 10-county region want to remind residents to be prepared for this wildfire season.
“You can reduce the damage from wildfires, but you can’t keep wildfires from starting,” said Will Boettner with the Travis County Fire Marshal’s Office. “Home owners need to have their homes evaluated for wildfire danger by their local fire department. They also need to watch the weather and pay attention to warnings.”
The best way to receive warnings is to sign up for announcements through WarnCentralTexas.org.WarnCentralTexas allows emergency personnel to directly contact residents by phone, text or email concerning a disaster or public safety event in their local area.
In addition, residents can be prepared by following the “Ready, Set, Go!” program said Jarred Thomas, emergency management director for Williamson County. The program at wildlandfirersg.org shares information on what residents can do to successfully prepare for a wildland fire. Steps include creating a defensible space around your home by cleaning brush away and using fire-resistant landscaping and fire-safe construction measures. It also advises people to stay aware of local news and information concerning wildfires and to sign up for emergency alert systems. Residents should pack a bag of emergency supplies or “go kit” and know evacuation routes. Then, if a wildfire warning is issued, leave early and go to somewhere safe.
“A ‘go kit’ should contain your important medical, insurance and other papers in a water-proof bag, medication for three days, flashlights with extra batteries, water, non-perishable food, a change of clothes and a charger for your phone,” states Mr. Thomas. “And don’t forget supplies and food for your pets.”
According to Lieutenant Steve Gibbon with the Austin Fire Department, there already have been 449 wildfires in the Austin area this year. With neighborhoods including natural green spaces and new homes being constructed next to undeveloped areas, the risk for wildfires is growing. The Firewise USA program at firewise.org teaches people how to adapt to living with potential for wildfire and encourages neighbors to work together to reduce the risk.
“All of our residents should adopt the Firewise USA practices in order to reduce the risk to their property and their neighbors,” states Lieutenant Gibbons. “And they should sign up for local warnings through WarnCentralTexas.org.”
The WarnCentralTexas.org alert system is provided by CAPCOG serving Bastrop, Blanco, Burnet, Caldwell, Fayette, Hays, Lee, Llano, Travis, and Williamson counties.