This wildfire season, the Texas A&M Forest Service has responded to 780 fires throughout 359,077 acres. Four of those fires took place in the last week of July and all were located in Central Texas. This has been a rough fire year so far, and researchers say that it may get worse. The Texas Drought Monitor reports that Central Texas is currently experiencing severe to extreme drought. Dry conditions in combination with record temperatures, desiccates grasses and brush turning them into dangerous tinder. Such circumstances can cause a tiny spark to rapidly become a giant conflagration devouring hundreds of acres in a short amount of time. A warming climate will exacerbate future fire risk which does not bode well for the coming years. 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, stated “Texas is in the bulls-eye of climate change.”
Wildfire is a natural part of our ecosystem serving as an agent of regeneration. Many arid and semi-arid ecosystems evolved with fire as a natural and regular occurrence. However, uncontrolled fires can have devastating and lasting effects. Wildfires destroy homes, disrupt wildlife habitat, and can dramatically change landscape and ground conditions. Scorched earth, until it revegetates, is less able to absorb water creating almost parking lot type conditions after a heavy rain. This can lead to flash flooding and causes disruptions in watershed processes. In addition, the costs of battling fires are extremely high. The U.S. Forest Service now spends over half of its allocated budget on wildfire response, which leaves little for its other beneficial programs such as recreation, ecosystem restoration, research and public education.
So what can we do to curtail the risk and impact of this dangerous yet natural phenomenon? Interestingly enough, the use of “prescribed” or controlled burns in rural areas and forests can mitigate the risk and impacts of wildfires. Intentionally burning under the right conditions reduces the fine, dry grasses and undergrowth that serve as fuel to a wildfire. This, however, is 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 to simply 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 around any structure
• Keeping eaves, gutters and vent openings clear and properly maintained.
• Keep fresh batteries in your smoke detectors and place them at regular intervals throughout your home
• 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!