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2016-10-13

Fire marshal, forest service to educate public about wildfires

By Steven James BCC Editor

The Bandera County Fire Marshal’s Office and the Texas A&M Forest Service are hosting this year’s Wildfires Preparedness Seminar on Oct. 15 at the new Warriors Heart Center at 756 Purple Sage Road.
At the free event, people will learn how wildfires spread, how they can check their homes for areas that might easily catch fire and how firefighters contain and extinguish fires. They will also learn about wildland-urban interface, which is the zone between unoccupied land and areas consisting of humans, said Texas A&M Forest Service Wildland-urban Interface Specialist Jake Gosschalk, who will give a presentation at the seminar.
“Things will be better with the community working together to prevent wildfires,” Gosschalk said.
The meet-and-greet session starts at 10 a.m., with presentations beginning at 11.
A wildfire is a large fire in a rural area or countryside that spreads and grows because of several factors, including dead vegetation and high winds, Bandera County Fire Marshal John Stith said.
Most wildfires are caused by humans who do not properly extinguish smaller fires, and the gutters, chimneys, vents and vegetation surrounding houses are all things people should check when preparing their homes for wildfires, Stith said. If unchecked, dead embers, dead grass and other flammable material can get into these open spaces of people’s houses, making their homes more flammable, he said.
“Fires are a natural part of our system here,” Stith said. “You’re not going to stop them, but we can put things in place so that when we do have fires, it has less effect on them.
One way to help reduce the likelihood of wildfires is by putting burn bans in place, he said. Bandera County is not currently in a burn ban, but Stith recommends people take certain factors into account when they consider starting fires. Wildfires have influenced the standard of how Texas homes are built in certain cities, Stith said.
Burning is not allowed when surface winds are less than six mph or more than 23 mph, or until one hour after sunrise and one hour before sunset, according to Bandera outdoor burning ordinances.
Most wildfires are not extinguished, but instead are contained by firefighters, Stith said. Then, the fires burn themselves out.
Stith said when putting out a fire, water can be taken from lakes, and fire engines typically have large water tanks, but finding enough water while combating wildfires is currently a major issue for Bandera firefighters.
“Water is always an issue, especially in a county where you don’t, for the most part, have hydrated systems,” Stith said. “You do in some subdivisions, but in certain parts of the county, there are no fire hydrants out there.”
One fire Stith keeps in mind when trying to keep people safe is the Bastrop County Complex fire in 2011. The wildfire was the most destructive in Texas history, killing two people, injuring 12 and destroying more than 1,600 homes, according to several news outlets.
“If we know that we’re going to have fires, then we better look at what we can best do to protect our people,” Stith said.