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Spicewood community earns Firewise distinction
Thursday, August 30, 2012 | | 1
By FOTI KALLERGIS
A golf course community that was spared during last year’s devastating wildfire in Spicewood is better prepared for future fire threats after completing a year-long nationally accredited fire mitigation program.
“Last Labor Day was our wake-up call,” said Tom Neslage, Barton Creek Lakeside board member at an Aug. 23 news conference. “We decided, as a community, to come together as a community, put together a committee and study best practices.”
The Barton Creek Lakeside committee found Firewise, a wildfire prevention program by the National Fire Protection Association that helps homeowners, community developers and firefighters identify and resolve wildfire risks to homes and properties around the country.
“Firewise gave a common vision or goal that everyone was willing to aspire to achieve as opposed to individual efforts,” Neslage said. “When you have 477 lawns, there has to be an identified criteria and goal that needs to be very subjective.”
Barton Creek Lakeside fire mitigation efforts included trimming all low hanging tree limbs, mowing overgrown brush more than 100 feet from curb lines, uprooting hundreds of cedar trees and clearing out debris from empty lots.
“As far as I’m concerned, the best thing it does is to give us the opportunity to save property and makes it safer for firefighters to defend a property,” said Ken Van Rens, Pedernales Fire Department chief, who retired Friday. “It decreases how fast fires spread. It’s critical to remove lower fuels like dry brush to create fire lines.”
The efforts didn’t come cheap. Collectively, residents spent more than $200,000 from their own pocketbooks to make their homes fire safe, Neslage said. Another nearly $8,000 was spent by the property owners’ association on common area fire prevention improvements. The residents also raised enough money to buy a new brush truck for the Spicewood Volunteer Fire Department.
“The Firewise principles and the Firewise techniques are proven,” noted Patrick Allen, Texas Forest Service spokesman. “We have had homes that, because they incorporated Firewise principles on their properties, they did survive (a wildfire) versus others who did not do that.”
Last September, more than 40 homes and 6,500 acres were destroyed in a wildfire that was fueled by high winds and dry brush in Spicewood, later named the Pedernales Fire.
The cause of the fire is still unknown, but Allen said there’s a good chance a spark from a power line was to blame. A power line may have also been to blame for the Bastrop wildfire that ignited just hours after the Pedernales Fire. The Bastrop wildfire claimed two lives and destroyed more than 1,600 homes and 34,000 acres making it the largest and most destructive wildfire in Texas history.
For some residents in West Travis County, the rebuilding efforts are still ongoing. Some are keeping fire prevention at the forefront of those efforts.
“Firewise doesn’t have to be something that’s expensive,” Allen explained. “You can start with things that are easily attainable such as picking up dense and dead vegetation from around your property, mowing your grass, cutting-off hanging tree limbs so that you’re reducing that overall fire intensity. That’s the key goal.”
In Texas, a little more than 40 communities have been accredited as Firewise communities, including Steiner Ranch which celebrated the honor last week.
Accreditations also come with a perk. Neslage said Barton Creek Lakeside residents may also see a drop in their home and car insurance premiums, a savings he said of about 5 percent.
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