Austin City Council passes items to increase wildfire protection


by ASHLEY GOUDEAU / KVUE News and Photojournalist SCOTT McKENNEY

Bio | Email | Follow: @AshleyG_KVUE

Posted on March 7, 2013 at 7:56 PM

Updated Thursday, Mar 7 at 11:18 PM

AUSTIN -- The landscape off Loop 360 is serene, it's downtown Austin's backyard. But the juniper and cedar trees that blanket the area are fuel. The area has been identified by the Austin Firefighters Association as one of the most volatile wildfire areas in the city.

"If anything caught in this neighborhood, it would be a very tragic event," said Ross Beal.

Beal is a waiter at Maudie's Tex Mex in the area and also did carpentry on homes in the area for ten years.

"If a wildfire did start in that neighborhood I've always thought that it could be really bad because the trees cross the streets and it could block off one of the few exits that they do actually have," Beal said.

With the memory of the Bastrop wildfires of 2011 still fresh on the minds of Central Texans, the Austin City Council approved four items to protect the city from wildfire. The first two items involve spending $100,000 to create a wildfire protection plan.

"That $100,000 will connect up, marry up with the county, Travis County, for another $100,000 to put together a $200,000 plan that will lay out our areas of highest hazard, it will help us prioritize where our hazards are and it will help with some mitigation solutions," said Austin Fire Department Wildfire Mitigator Jim Linardos.

Those solutions could include more training for firefighters and clearing brush near homes.

Austin City Council also approved the creation of two new AFD positions called wildfire prevention captains.

"These two captains will help us coordinate, work more together, work smarter with our money and stretch the dollars," said Linardos.

Linardos said the department hopes to have the captains hired by the end of March.

The final measure Austin City Council approved was a five-year deal with Texas A&M Forest Service that allows the city to buy firefighting equipment at a lower cost.

"We need a state or federal partner, as a city, and once we have that state partner, which is the Texas A&M Forest Service, then we can buy things through GSA which is really for federal government. It allows us in that area, arena to purchase," Linardos said.

Linardos said the deal will save the City tens of thousands of dollars over the term of the contract. It will also makes Austin eligible to receive state and federal funds for firefighting.