Austin program cuts risk of wildfires


by KRIS BETTS / KVUE News and photojournalist DEREK RASOR

Bio | Email | Follow: @KrisB_KVUE

Posted on February 26, 2013 at 11:10 PM

Updated Wednesday, Feb 27 at 8:35 AM

AUSTIN -- For the first time in history, the Austin City Council has approved a year-round project meant to cut down our risk of wildfires.

The project, called the Wildfire Mitigation Fund, designates nearly $1 million to pay for research and maintenance to remove wildfire “fuels,” otherwise known as brush.

Technically, Austin should be coming out of winter wildfire season and into “spring green up,” however, the on-going drought has created hazardous fire conditions.

“You're still seeing all of the dead fuels that are sitting on top of the spring growth that's starting to come out,” said Chief Thayor Smith with the Austin Fire Department.

Due to high winds and dry conditions, AFD responded to 21 brush and grass fires on Monday alone. The goal of the Wildfire Mitigation Fund is to try and prevent future fires from spreading.

“We've got to be proactive, not reactive,” Smith said.

Public Safety Commissioner Michael Levy told KVUE he believes the new Wildfire Mitigation Fund is absolutely critical.

“Unless we get real serious, real fast, we're going to lose 10,000 homes in basically an instant."

Levy said the conditions now are similar to those in Bastrop in 2011.

“Austin has dodged a bullet for years. The Forest Service has said that we're one of the one or two urban areas that are at the highest risk," he said.

The Jester Estates community off 2222 and Highway 360 in Northwest Austin will be one of the first areas addressed by the mitigation fund, because homes there are surrounded by large amounts of brush.

"The worry is that once you get a fire in this type of fuel, it spreads to the cedar trees or the bigger fuels and will really get a fire going,” said Smith.

The fund will allow firefighters to remove dangerous undergrowth before it sparks a disaster.

Crews are expected to begin prescribed burns to get rid of the brush in several demonstration zones by September.





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