Work to reduce wildfire threat will take months


by KRIS BETTS / KVUE News and photojournalist DATHAN HULL

Bio | Email | Follow: @KrisB_KVUE

Posted on March 4, 2013 at 11:15 PM

Updated Monday, Mar 4 at 11:49 PM

AUSTIN -- Three months in and 2013 is already shaping up to be another high-risk wildfire season.

“We've had more red flag days than we've had in previous years,” said Chief Jim Linardos with the Austin Fire Department.

Linardos is in charge of a new fire prevention initiative in Austin called the “Wildfire Mitigation Program” created to prepare for the worst.

“We were reactive in 2011, now we're being proactive."

However, the program to eliminate dry brush also referred to as “fuel” in the fire-fighting world, will take several months to become active. “Due to some of the regulations that we need to work within, we may not be able to complete some of those till the fall,” said Linardos.

Additionally, there is only enough funding, $600,000 currently, to address an estimated 200 acres in Austin, according to Linardos.

“There's an art and a science to this and the art of it is trying to make your dollar stretch."

That’s not the only reason for the delay. West Austin, considered a high-risk area for wildfires, is also home to several endangered species. AFD is working with environmental groups to guarantee not only prevention, but preservation as well.

Since it will be several months before the Wildfire Mitigation Program begins prescribed burns, the Austin Fire Department is asking homeowners to take steps to reduce their wildfire risk.

Linardos wants “people to take care of their homes; it gives their home a better chance to survive during a wildfire."

That work begins with training landscape architects, and ends with responsible homeowners.

“They need to understand that they should have a lean, green area around their home. And the first 30 feet are critical," he said.

Also critical is working from the roof down.

“If they've got leaves in the gutter, that's a problem. Those need to be removed. As you work your way down, make sure there's no trees up against the home, then work their way around the house,” Linardos said.

AFD has a fire prevention program for homeowners that you can see here. These are steps you can take to try and save lives as well as property in preparation for a very active wildfire season.


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