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New LTFR wildland fuels crew to clear fire hazards
Friday, June 8, 2012 | | 1
Lake Travis Fire Rescue serves several communities where wildland vegetation and urban development butt heads with sometimes combustible results.
Last year’s Steiner Ranch and Belvedere community wildfires and the potential for more as the drought drags on prompted the emergency services district to form a six-month fuels management pilot program.
The six- to eight-member crew will reduce vegetation primarily in wildland-urban interfaces supported with newly acquired pickup trucks, chainsaws and other hand tools and an industrial-strength chipper.
LTFR also has secured a contract for a standby bulldozer, a vital tool in building fire breaks and clearing away fuels such as brush but one that was in short supply during last year’s fires.
Should a wildland fire break out, the crew would be available to establish a fire line or perimeter, but the seasonal employees will not train nor serve as wildland firefighters.
Officials are developing the program quickly to prepare for the impending fire season.
“There is a need to expedite the program to get the crew up and running before we get into the thick of fire season,” said John Durham, LTFR assistant chief of fire prevention. “We want to have some good mitigation work done prior to then.”
Fire Chief Jim Linardos said recent rains have helped but the land and wildland fuels are drying out again.
Linardos said the department will combine Texas Forest Service and Texas Wildfire Risk Assessment Portal data with its analysis of fuel intensity, slope, threat to urban areas and accessibility to form risk assessments and determine which areas to clear.
“Most of the work will be done on some very visible public chunks of land in places that people can see so we can build visibility for the project,” he said.
According to the risk assessment portal at texaswildfirerisk.com that features a public viewer map, high to very high wildfire risk conditions may include large flames up to 150 feet in length, profuse short-range spotting, frequent long-range spotting, strong fire-induced winds and great potential for harm or damage to life and property.
Some residential areas have volunteered to be test sites.
“We will do actual boots-on-the-ground field assessments in some of our communities and neighborhoods, particularly as we work with those that have specifically requested for us to come out and do assessments for them,” Durham explained.
Once the department has hired personnel and trained them, he said crews should begin clearing wildland fuels in mid-June.
Several of the department’s full-time firefighters have recently undergone wildland fire training as well.
Linardos said several cities, counties and homeowners’ associations have expressed interest in partnering with the department to reduce hazardous fuels.
“There are a lot of areas we can start working on immediately and make some progress,” he stated. “It’s a six-month pilot project, so we’ll see how it goes.”
Barker Keith II, ESD No. 6 board president, said the need for a program that would address a persistent threat in the district outweighed concerns about the district’s funding challenges.
“This year, we just decided to bite the bullet,” Keith said. “Frankly, we are doing it on a shoestring budget. That’s all we’ve got.”
The district serves more than 200 square miles of south Lake Travis.
“There are many more fuels out there than this group could ever handle across numerous years going forward, but if you don’t start somewhere, you’ll never get it done,” Keith said.
He stressed that the program’s impact will hinge on forging partnerships.
“It’s a small group, but it’s a very important strategy that, if leveraged with homeowners’ associations, municipalities, government entities such as the city and county with their resources and their efforts, can turn out a far better result,” Keith said.
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