A Dry Month Raises Fears for Wildfire Season
The National Weather Service says La Niña is officially over. Forecasters say that’s a good thing for Central Texas. A drier-than-normal April has made firefighters worry about the risk of another devastating wildfire season.
In the first three days of May, Travis County firefighters put out 12 brush fires. It’s not hard to understand why they are worried.
Lt. Josh Portie with the Austin Fire Department says there’s a lot of public and private green space in and around Austin, and each has a different criterion for managing brush and dead trees.
So keeping down fuel for potential wildfires can be a difficult proposition.
“You know, the only way that I can ensure them that there will not be a fire in a green space near them is to pave it,” Portie said.
As you walk spaces such as the greenbelt under the 360 bridge, it does seem that there’s an exceptional number of dead, dying, or fallen trees. The area’s littered with gray. Rotten tree limbs obstruct the trail. And large roots are exposed in the cracking soil.
Walter Passmore manages the city’s urban forestry program. He says trees here are still reeling from last year’s historic drought. But the city invests a lot of time and resources in establishing young trees.
“It starts returning a lot of benefits to us after it’s established,” Passmore said. “When the tree is a young adult and mature is when it’s really returning a lot to the community. So we do all we can to retain those trees.”
And so, Passmore says, the solution is generally to leave the dead trees and brush in the landscape. But is that decision putting Austin at risk for more fires?
Portie says the answer’s not that simple.
“Even if we thin out the fuel, which is going to reduce the fire intensity and even the ember production directly adjacent to the home, unless we do the entire greenbelt, that’s the only way we’re going to reduce the potential for ignition,” he said.
Wildfire season is upon us. Portie says the best way for people to protect their homes from wildfires is to get rid of what he calls available fuel beds. That means doing things like cleaning out your gutters and getting rid of excess brush on or next to your property.