Emergency management and fire officials and local advocates urged Central Texas residents to prepare for the 2019 wildfire season, which started in May, by staying aware of their wildfire risk, actively mitigating dangers and being prepared to act. Residents can accomplish these tasks by becoming a Firewise USA Community and registering at WarnCentralTexas.org to get emergency alerts from local public safety personnel by text message, cellphone call or email.
“We like to say that wildfires are everyone’s fight in Central Texas,” said Justice Jones, Austin Fire Department wildfire mitigation officer. “Taking simple steps can ensure your home doesn’t ignite during a wildfire such as keeping debris from your gutters and trimming your trees to eliminate dead wood and leaf litter … and heeding the warnings you receive through WarnCentralTexas.”
WarnCentralTexas is a free public service provided by the Capital Area Council of Governments in conjunction with the region’s cities and counties for individuals living, working or visiting Bastrop, Blanco, Burnet, Caldwell, Fayette, Hays, Lee, Llano, Travis, and Williamson counties. The system allows emergency responders to send hyper-local, targeted emergency messages to people in specific neighborhoods or streets, which can include evacuation or shelter-in-place instructions.
The National Fire Protection Association’s Firewise USA program encourages neighbors to work together to prevent losses that could be caused by wildfires.
“We know wildfires are increasing in number and intensity,” said Randall Jamieson, a River Place neighborhood Firewise Community leader.
Because of the Firewise USA Program, River Place residents have educated and motivated themselves to take their own risk-reduction actions and to know what parts of the neighborhood could serve as firebreaks or as a wildfire refuge to ensure their safety if an evacuation or shelter-in-place scenario is needed.
“Being a Firewise Community means being informed and taking action,” said Joyce Statz, Austin Firewise Alliance president.
The alliance runs a quarterly in-depth training for community leaders to better understand how to make their neighborhoods more resilient against wildfires. Education and participation play big roles, she said, noting a community event to clear brush can go a long way. Residents from all communities are welcome to learn from the alliance.
Kari Hines, with the Texas A&M Forest Service, said this year’s wildfire risk is going to increase later in summer because of the higher than average amount of rain the area has received: increased rains lead to more vegetation and provide more fuel for wildfires.
“You need to keep yourself as informed as possible,” said Will Boettner, Travis County Fire Marshall Office’s fire education outreach coordinator. “The best way to do that is to be tapped into the WarnCentralTexas system. Remember when green grass gets tall, it burns twice as tall.”
About the regional notification system: CAPCOG uses a regional notification system (RNS), WarnCentralTexas.org, as a crucial public-safety tool. It allows Central Texas governments to send direct messages to the public about emergency situations. It’s effective for notifying a large or small amount of people in a short time. WarnCentralTexas is an opt-in service for cellphone users. Individuals must subscribe to receive messages on their cellphone via voice calls, text messages or emails. Notification information is strictly used by local governments to send emergency warnings.
About CAPCOG: The Capital Area Council of Governments, governed by elected officials from the ten-county region it serves, has worked for more than 45 years as an advocate, planner and coordinator on important regional issues. Programs and services related to public safety and emergency response, environmental planning, economic and community development and the elderly are delivered at a regional level to leverage funding, maximize cooperation and eliminate duplication. CAPCOG serves Bastrop, Blanco, Burnet, Caldwell, Fayette, Hays, Lee, Llano, Travis and Williamson counties.