Fire destruction out west reminds Texans of danger at home

A member of the Lake Travis Fire Rescue Fuels Crew works to mitigate an area of West Lake Hills on Oct. 12, 2017. (Nexstar Photo/Wes Rapaport)
A member of the Lake Travis Fire Rescue Fuels Crew works to mitigate an area of West Lake Hills on Oct. 12, 2017. (Nexstar Photo/Wes Rapaport)

AUSTIN (Nexstar) — Thousands of acres have burned in California, hundreds of missing person reports have been filed and fire experts in Texas are bracing for bad news.

“Nowadays in Texas you can pretty much have a wildfire season 365 days a year,” Lake Travis Fire Rescue Wildfire Specialist Will Boettner said.

“If you have taken the steps to heart and your home against wildfire, you’re in a much better position to deal with the oncoming wildfire,” he explained.

Linda Anthony has taken many of those steps to prevent fire from spreading at her West Lake Hills home.

“If I do my part, I hope that I can maybe slow it down, keep my house from being the next in the food chain,” she said.

Anthony also happens to be the mayor of West Lake Hills. She has worked closely with fire officials to mitigate fire risks for residents.

West Lake Hills Mayor Linda Anthony (right), and Lake Travis Fire Rescue Wildfire Specialist Will Boettner (lefT) discuss fire prevention methods on her property on Oct. 12, 2017. (Nexstar Photo/Wes Rapaport)
West Lake Hills Mayor Linda Anthony (right), and Lake Travis Fire Rescue Wildfire Specialist Will Boettner (left) discuss fire prevention methods on her property on Oct. 12, 2017. (Nexstar Photo/Wes Rapaport)

“The more people who are conscious of fire danger and fire risk and take steps to manage their own property, the better,” she said.

The Texas A&M Forest Service offered a handful of tips for fire prevention.

“I think the lesson that California shows us right now is that wildfire can happen anytime anyplace,” Forest Service wildland urban interface specialist Kari Hines said.

The list of preventative measures includes keeping flammable materials at least five feet away from your home, and keeping healthy plants pruned. Hines said healthier plants do not catch fire as easily.

Hines said cleaning up dead trees from property, as well as limbing — removing branches from the trunks of fallen trees — help keep a small fire from going “from the ground into the canopy.”

Keeping leaves and needles off of roofs, decks and patios cuts the chances of fire spreading. “I keep my gutters clean,” Anthony said.

Covering vents or openings with non-flammable mesh works to keep embers out of tight spaces.

Hines recommended subscribing to alerts from local emergency management officials to get the latest up-to-date information in an emergency. Many cities and counties offer automated emergency phone calls.

“In Texas we are faced every day with the possibility of having a destructive wildfire,” said Texas A&M Forest Service communications specialist Phillip Truitt. “From the Bastrop Complex and Hidden Pines Fire to the deadly wildfires in the Texas panhandle this spring every region of Texas has this threat.”

“Mitigating the damage from wildfires takes everyone working together, residents, firefighters and government officials all play a role,” said Truitt.

Forest Service Chief of Staff Don Galloway said from Jan. 1 through Oct. 10, Texas has seen 7,456 wildfires reported affecting 683,994 acres.

Hines said vigilance is one of the most important tools to use year-round.

“Just because you’ve gone through a wildfire once doesn’t mean that it’s not going to happen again,” she explained. “Being ever-ready, being prepared for your house, and being prepared to evacuate no matter what type of emergency, is a year-round responsibility.

Anthony said fire protection maintenance for most homes can be done over a weekend.

“I’ve lived here 30 years, I want to live here another 30, so taking care of things it’s a good idea,” she said.

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