Austin Fire Chief Rhoda Mae Kerr, from atop the ACC Pinacle building, points to the 100 or so acres that were burned black by the April 17, 2011 Oak Hill wildfire.
Austin and Travis County officials launched their “Wildfire Ready Austin” campaign April 16 at ACC Pinnacle, to bring awareness to steps the public can take to lessen the risks of becoming wildfire victims.
Participants at the press conference included Mayor Lee Leffingwell, Travis County Precinct Three Commissioner Karen Huber, Austin Fire Chief Rhoda Mae Kerr, Lake Travis Fire Chief Jim Linardos and Justice Jones with the Texas Forest Service.
The campaign asks “Are You Wildfire Ready?” and reminds the community that it’s not a matter of if, but when a wildfire will occur.
“Use this beautiful month of April, before the summer heat sets in, to become fire ready,” Huber advises. “Get your neighborhood involved in the being a “Fire Wise” neighborhood. Contact your local fire department for their guidance.”
April is the kickoff of wildfire season in Central Texas and statewide with weather patterns that heighten wildfire risk. April 17 also marks the first anniversary of the Pinnacle fire in Southwest Austin.
The Oak Hill neighborhoods struck by the fire a year ago will mark the anniversary on Sunday, April 29. The Scenic Brook and South Windmill Run neighborhoods, in association with Oak Hill Wildfire Relief, will hold Remembrance Day in Windmill Run Park at 3:00 p.m. with guest speakers, live music, a potluck picnic and presentations of tokens of appreciation. The observance will kick off with a walk at 2:45 p.m. from Lily Henric’s home on Scenic Brook Drive to Windmill Run Park.
Henric’s uninsured home was destroyed by the fire, but re-built by neighbors and volunteers. It is now almost ready for her to move back in.
Despite recent rains, drought conditions are forecasted to continue.
Both the Austin City Council and Travis County Commissioners Court declared April as Wildfire Awareness Month and the Texas Forest Service annually declares the second week in April as Wildfire Awareness Week.
Public awareness efforts will include online resources, advertising and neighborhood meetings to move Austin/Travis County toward becoming a “fire-adapted” community, one that understands the risk of wildfires and is taking steps to ensure neighborhoods know how to mitigate wildfire damage and ways to ensure safety.
A fire-adapted community knows that wildfires are a natural part of the ecosystem and can be beneficial to the environment. When living next to a wildland area there can be a balance between the protection of structures and the preservation of the ecosystem through careful vegetation management on one’s property.
Residents should consider the conservation of soil, providing food and cover for wildlife, and preserving a natural buffer along waterways when managing vegetation near wildlands.
Tips for preparedness can be found at the Homeland Security and Emergency Management site at www.austinhsem.com/go/doc/3603/983415/
The downloadable “Ready, Set, Go!” brochure, adapted for Austin/Travis County and available for free at every Austin fire station, includes tips about structures, landscaping and what to put in a disaster kit if forced to evacuate. The web site provides links to other agencies including the Texas Forest Service.
The City, through its partnership with Code for America, also is developing a mobile application that will provide information about wildfire preparedness and notifications. The public may register now at “prepared.ly” to be informed about its launch later this year.
The Strategic Wildland Fire Task Force is a partnership between the City of Austin and Travis County that is looking at issues ranging from public awareness to emergency personnel training including prevention/mitigation, response and recovery.
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