Municipalities in the Lake Travis area boost wildfire-prevention efforts

Lakeway City Forester Carrie Burns discussed wildfire risk in Lakeway during the Sept. 9 special meeting. 
Brian Rash/Community Impact Newspaper
Lakeway City Forester Carrie Burns discussed wildfire risk in Lakeway during the Sept. 9 special meeting. Brian Rash/Community Impact Newspaper

Lakeway City Forester Carrie Burns discussed wildfire risk in Lakeway during the Sept. 9 special meeting. Brian Rash/Community Impact Newspaper

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Following a summer of high temperatures and dry conditions, municipalities in the Lake Travis-Westlake area continue to allocate resources toward wildfire-prevention efforts.

On Oct. 8, the Travis County Commissioners Court voted to extend a burn ban for the second time since August, this time until Nov. 6. If current humidity levels begin to drop the risk may continue, according to Chris Rea, Lake Travis Fire Rescue’s wildfire-mitigation expert.

Rea and Lakeway City Forester Carrie Burns are spearheading wildfire-prevention efforts within Lakeway. Together they are helping implement brush cleanups, home assessments and community outreach.

Lakeway's 89-acre Hamilton Green Belt is full of wooded areas densely packed with juniper oaks, commonly referred to as cedar, which results in a more flammable forest due to their high resin content, Rea said.
Lakeway City Council voted to allocate $350,000 to the city’s wildfire-mitigation capital fund Sept. 30, and Rea said that investment will allow for a significant amount of forestry risk reduction work. By protecting Lakeway’s homes, the city will see a huge return on their investment, he said.

A majority of the funds will aid in the protection of the Hamilton Greenbelt, an area identified as the city’s highest priority by the Texas Wildfire Risk Assessment Portal.

Other priority areas within Lakeway include North Lakeway Village, Sailfish Park, City Park, Rebel Park and the Hurst Creek Road Greenbelt.

Burns said 89% to 90% of homes near a wildfire burn because of traveling embers that find their way into residents' gutters and backyards. Consequently, wildfire mitigation requires a multifaceted approach, she said.

Shaded fuel breaks will be utilized behind the homes bordering the greenbelt—work Burns said has been ongoing for about seven years. Fuel breaks involve the removal of dead trees and ladder fuels such as branches and shrubs, creating an area of defensive space from a potential fire.

“If shaded fuel breaks were not in place you would get a lot more embers flying at the house," Rea said.

West Lake Hills officials have also made decisions beefing up the city’s wildfire-prevention efforts, and Mayor Linda Anthony pointed out residents are eligible for free brush pickup through Texas Disposal Systems on a monthly basis.
This June, West Lake Hills City Council and the Westlake Fire Department worked to update the city’s emergency evacuation plan, which had not been revised since 2008.

The goal of the updated plan was for residents to develop greater situational awareness in case of an evacuation, Anthony said, adding residents have been and will continue to be encouraged to familiarize themselves with their street’s access points and sign up for "reverse 911 calls" that would notify them in case of an emergency.

The updated evacuation plan created additional relocation and evacuation centers, including Barton Creek Square Mall, and it divided the city into separate districts based on the topography and means of ingress and egress, or enter and exit points.

Burns said while official city actions are important, it remains critical for homeowners to do work around their properties.

In order to create a safer community, Rea emphasized the need for homeowners to remove potential fuel from their properties, including dead branches and gutter debris.

“When we talk about wildfire we say it’s everybody’s fight," he said. "We have a lot of homeowners associations within a high wildfire risk area, so working not only on the city side but with privately owned properties is imperative in making a fire-adapted community."


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