Fire officials mark anniversary of Oak Hill fire with warnings, rules for fire safety

April 21, 2012  

fire_anniversary

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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1 COMMENT

  1. By Oak Hill Resident, April 30, 2012

    I’ve read many articles on the Oak Hill fire and most of them leave out one very important aspect, and that is WHO and WHAT caused this fire. Yes, “wildfires are a natural part of the ecosystem”. But squatters or homeless people living in the woods that build fires and leave them unattended are not a “natural” occurrence. Unless being drunk causes you naturally forget to pour water on your campfire.

    Wild fire awareness hardly matters to homeless people. The homeless man, that caused many others to be homeless, left his campfire to get beer from the nearby convenience store. Do you think he’s concerned about fire awareness week? Who will be patrolling the wooded areas to make sure this doesn’t happen again? Well I hope it’s the people that live near a wooded area like the one in Oak Hill. I doubt if the fire or police dept. are out patrolling the woods looking for illegal campfires. The preparedness guide is good information, but I didn’t read anything about homeless people in the woods that are building fires.

    What is the Mayor or City Council doing about this problem? Probably nothing. They’re too busy handing out tax dollars to build racetracks or tax breaks to large computer companies. Holding little meetings and dedicating a week of fire awareness won’t fix the reason this fire happened.

    Sorry people. My sympathy for the homeless ends with personal property damage. Like Smokey the Bear said, “It’s up to you to prevent forest fires”, so you’d better start by hiking through the woods with a friend or two just to make sure some drunk homeless person doesn’t burn down your neighborhood. One other thing you can do, is stop giving money to homeless panhandlers at the street corner. This only perpetuates the problem. If you keep feeding them, then they stay where there is food. I did not see that in the fire awareness handbook.

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