Welcome to wildfire season! Currently, only 22% of Texas is under drought conditions—a relatively low amount compared to previous years. However, as of June 17, 2020, there are already three large woodland fires burning in Texas covering 11,223 acres. As the quintessential hot and dry Texas summer conditions ramp up, grasses and brush will dry out and soon become dangerous tinder. In such conditions, a tiny spark can rapidly become a giant conflagration that, when uncontrolled, can destroy homes, disrupt wildlife habitat, and dramatically change landscape and ground conditions. In addition, scorched earth is impervious like a parking lot. This can cause flash flooding during our inevitable heavy rains, ultimately disrupting watershed processes.
Future fire predictions do not look good. A recent study from the University of Arizona asserts climate change will contribute to an exponential increase in the amount of burn acreage in the coming decades. Donald Falk, a co-author of the study, issued the dire statement, “Texas is in the bulls-eye of climate change.”
To make matters worse, the costs of battling fires is extremely high, topping $2.4 billion in 2017. The U.S. Forest Service now spends over half of its allocated budget on wildfire response, which leaves little for its other beneficial programs like recreation, ecosystem restoration, research, and public education.
So what can we do?
As alarming as all of that sounds, there are useful tools to help mitigate seasonal fires. Sometimes, the best way to fight fire is with fire. Under the right conditions, intentional burning reduces the fine, dry grasses and undergrowth that serve as fuel to wildfire and is one of the best tools we have to manage the spread and intensity of wildfires. Many land managers use prescribed burns as a way to control competing vegetation, which improves grazing and increases wildlife habitat.
Prescribed burns, however, are not a practical approach for those in urban settings and/or without proper training. For the majority of people, the best thing to do is simply to be prepared. Have a fire plan in place, and ensure that all family members and ranch hands are informed. There are many resources out there that can assist in your fire safety plan for your home as well as for your ranch or farm, some of which are listed below. The best plans combine prevention efforts with impact mitigation and include:
• Using non-flammable building materials like asphalt shingles or a metal roof
• Clearing brush and other combustible debris (including firewood and wooden fences) to at least 30 feet away from any structure
• Keeping eaves, gutters and vent openings clear and properly maintained
• Placing smoke detectors at regular intervals throughout your home, and keeping fresh batteries in them
• Placing easily-accessible fire extinguishers in every structure on your property
• Having and practicing a fire escape plan
Follow these links for more in-depth ways to protect your home or ranch from a fire. Report any fire you see to 911, and as always, stay safe!