Homeowners urged to protect houses against wildfires

Wildfire in South Austin on April 17, 2011 (KXAN Viewer Photo)
Wildfire in South Austin on April 17, 2011 (KXAN Viewer Photo)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — With no rain in sight, Austin Fire Department and Travis County want to make sure we’re all doing our part to reduce the risk of wildfires. They hosted a meeting Wednesday about the Wildland Urban Interface Code to help explain if your home is at risk.

It’s a set of standards that outline best practices, strategies and rules to cover everything from managing vegetation to building guidelines in areas where development and neighborhoods meet green space. While the Austin Fire department does its own wildfire mitigation, they say it’s important homeowners do their part as well.

We spoke with Wildfire Division Program Manager Justice Jones to see what this urban interface code is all about and what people can do to protect themselves and their property.

KXAN: Can you briefly summarize what exactly is being discussed at this meeting?

Jones: “City and county staff and others are learning about their role in helping protect Austin and Travis County from wildfire. The things we can do as stewards of this community to help educate our residents and to ensure that our future growth occurs in a way that is compatible with our fire adapted ecosystems and the environment that we live in. So it’s an effort to make sure that the city understands all the tools and resources that are available that we can use to empower the public and ensure that we’re resilient to wildfire into the future and we address the existing risk in Austin.”

KXAN: Is there a different criteria on how house fires and wildfires are managed or tackled?

Jones: “Fire safety is our main priority in the Austin Fire Department and we want a house to be safe on the inside and the outside. To ensure your home is safe on the exterior, it’s important to look at your landscape and the way a fire might travel across that landscape and reach your home. Or if there are things on or around your home that might be easily ignitable by embers that are often carried well ahead of the main fire. So there’s lots of little things that residents and homeowners can do to align with the city’s efforts to protect the community as a whole. Each individual that prepares themselves, enhances the overall community safety. The individual is safer and the community is.

KXAN: How can people help mitigate that risk and protect themselves?

Jones: “First step is being responsible and ensuring that you’re not the cause of a wildfire. Almost 90 percent of wildfires that occur in Texas are caused by humans. The second step is to ensure that your home is not fuel for a wildfire. That it’s constructed and designed in a way that makes it resilient to ignition. That you don’t have siding on your home that is easily ignitable, that you don’t have landscaping around the home that can act like a fuse.

KXAN: What are some resources people can access if they are concerned about their home being prepared for a potential wildfire?

Jones: “The best resource in our area is Atxfire.com, it directs you to our division website where we have links to a personal action guide that you can develop for yourself and your family to ensure that you respond effectively when a wildfire occurs and you’ve done everything in your power to make sure your home survives a wildfire. And in the event you can’t evacuate, that ultimately you can survive a wildfire in that home. That is our long term goal. That our homes are protection mechanisms for our citizens. We absolutely want everybody to adhere in evacuations, but we have many communities that are design with limited access and may make it difficult for folks to get our of that area. So we want them to have as many options as possible, have a plan, mitigate the risk around your home, and take action when you receive an evacuation order or you spot a wildfire yourself that you feel could threaten you or your family.”

To see various resources and tools available, you can visit atxfire.com.

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