Risk of wildfire heats up across Texas

More than 1,700 wildfires have been reported statewide so far this year

By County magazine staff

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County officials and employees can take steps to lessen the risks of wildfires by clearing gutters of dead leaves and maintaining the proper tire pressure on vehicles, among other things.

More than 1,700 wildfires have been reported statewide so far this year, burning more than 50,000 acres. Warmer and drier than normal weather ushered in by La Niña, as well as dead vegetation left behind by February's historic winter storms, created ideal conditions for wildfires during the winter and early spring, according to the Texas A&M Forest Service, which monitors weather-related fire risks. Texas should expect much of the same during the summer if dry and hot temperatures persist in parts of the state and increase elsewhere.

Local fire departments and the forest service have responded to more than 43,000 fires, which have burned 2 million acres, since 2016.

TAC Risk Control Consultant Joe Szewczyk, a former Marine who used to battle wildfires in California, said now is the time for counties to shore up their fire response plans.

"Review plans, policies, procedures. Check contact lists, like who's responsible for what and making sure emergency contacts and numbers are up to date, and the same people are still in those positions. Get the word out to all precincts on the steps they can take to harden their structures. Complete the fire safety checklist. Is there any accountability for that?" Szewczyk said.

Risk Management Pool members participating in the workers' compensation and property programs also have access to a fire extinguisher simulator. The simulator uses a laser to replicate extinguisher discharge and does not leave a residue as a dry-chemical or carbon dioxide extinguisher does. Participants can simulate different types of fires, including brush fires, electrical fires and those started by combustible liquids.

Other tips to prevent fires include:

  • Clean roofs and gutters of dead leaves, debris and pine needles, which can catch on fire.
  • Remove dead brush and branches near buildings.
  • Reduce embers that can pass through vents and eaves by installing 1/8 inch metal mesh screening.
  • Check the tire pressure on your vehicles. Low tire pressure can cause more friction on the road, which can spark fires, especially on roads near dead grass.
  • Maintain lawn mowers, so they do not produce sparks when being used.
  • Ensure the county has procedures for fire safety ratings and for relaying to the public those fire dangers.
  • Avoid placing trash cans near the building, especially if they contain flammable material or items susceptible to spontaneous combustion.
  • Communicate with power companies so firebreaks are properly maintained.
  • Coordinate with the local fire authority to develop a prevention and response plan to wildfires.

For more information on how to prepare for and respond to wildfires, contact your Risk Control Consultant at www.county.org/County-Risk-Management-Map.