Nearly 10 years ago, destructive wildfires forced mass evacuations and destroyed thousands of homes near Austin. Today, the city’s soaring growth is raising concern that Austin remains ill-prepared for a wildfire outbreak. California firefighters recently visited the capital city to educate community and city leaders on what they need to do to prepare for, and prevent, destructive wildfires.
On a sunny and windy day last week, about forty people crowded the top of a scenic Hill Country overlook in Austin. But they weren’t there for the view. This group of city and state leaders listened as firefighters from California and Austin, pointed out the cedar trees and brush climbing up the incline. They also noted the strong winds funneling up to the overlook. Despite this spot’s great views, it’s a fire hazard. A potential wildfire could quickly travel up this slope through the trees and brush, threatening dozens of nearby homes.
“I look at the continuous fuel that goes right up to the houses and I’m like uh, in the conditions we’ve experienced, that is not good,” says Dave Russell, a California firefighter who helped coordinate responses to that state’s most recent “mega-fires,” including the Camp Fire in 2018. That fire destroyed the town of Paradise, California, and killed 85 people.