Officials credit Firewise program with saving homes in Trails blaze

Firewise house in The Trails of Horseshoe Bay

Officials say the national Firewise program helped save homes in The Trails of Horseshoe Bay during a recent blaze. Staff photo by Daniel Clifton

Seventeen years ago, The Trails of Horseshoe Bay became a Firewise community. During a recent 400-acre wildfire, it paid off.

“It made a big difference,” said Kari Hines, the Texas A&M Forest Service Firewise coordinator. “It definitely saved some homes.”

On Aug. 13, a wildfire broke out in The Trails and Blue Lake areas just west of Horseshoe Bay. Local, state, and federal emergency crews scrambled to battle the blaze, which threatened a number of homes. Crews contained the fire in a couple of days. One house was destroyed and another damaged. Those two structures were in the Blue Lake community. 

It could have been worse. Much worse.

“I can tell you a lot (of homes) were saved,” said Tommy Crane, the Marble Falls Fire Rescue fire marshal. He was among the many firefighters who responded to the blaze. “There were 32 structures in that neighborhood that could have been lost, but they weren’t, and being a Firewise community was a big reason they weren’t.”

Firewise is a National Fire Protection Association program, coordinated through the state, that outlines the steps communities can take to better protect homes from wildfires while managing wildfire fuels.

“Firewise encourages residents to take grassroots control of their own community as for fire protection,” said Hines of the Texas A&M Forest Service. “Landowners can make some of the biggest changes to make sure their homes are better protected.”

The first step to making a city, neighborhood, or subdivision a Firewise community is getting residents to buy into the program, Hines said. Then, the community just has to follow the program guidelines on the Firewise website and connect with her as the state liaison.

Fire Marshal Crane is also a source of knowledge on Firewise communities. He welcomes invitations to present topical programs to property and homeowners’ associations and neighborhood groups. The Marble Falls fire station, 700 Avenue N, also has pamphlets on the Firewise program and wildfire mitigation for any resident wanting to protect their home and property. 

An initial step to becoming a Firewise community is assessing how landscaping would react to a wildfire. The program encourages property owners to create a “defensible space” around a home or structure, clearing brush, keeping grass mowed, and trimming trees, especially branches within 5 feet of the ground. These things reduce the amount of wildfire fuel near a home.

“It really does make a tremendous impact to protect homes,” Hines said.

Crane agreed.

“It reduces the fuel that the fire needs in order to burn,” he pointed out. “And, it works. We saw several fires burn up to the grass of homes (in The Trails) and stop because there wasn’t any fuel for them to burn. It made a big difference out there.”

Defensible spaces also give firefighters a safe place to work while battling a blaze, Hines added.

“If firefighters feel they have a safe place around a home, they can get in there and protect it,” she said.

Crane witnessed that firsthand during the Trails Fire. As flames ran up a hill, a team of firefighters stood their ground above it on a Firewise-landscaped property, saving the home and pushing back the fire.

Along with homes and properties, The Trails residents also made sure their common green space, which has walking and biking trails, followed Firewise guidelines.

“They took action in those green spaces to create shaded fuel breaks,” Hines said. This included cutting low tree branches and reducing vegetation along trails.

“We know some of those trail spaces they worked decreased the fire behavior,” Hines added. “These are things that can and do, as we saw at the Trails Fire, make a difference.”

Another benefit is more abstract.

“There’s a sense of community that comes along with living in a Firewise community,” Hines said. “They feel like they’re working together for something.”

And during a dry, hot summer, working together as a community is vital. Crane asks that people be mindful of things that could spark a wildfire.

“Really, what we need is rain,” he said. “That’s what we really need, rain.”

Contact Hines at khines@tfs.tamu.edu for more information on becoming a Firewise community. Residents may contact Crane at 830-693-4060 or tcrane@marblefallstx.gov if they would like him to visit with their homeowners’ association, organization, or community about the Firewise program and wildfire mitigation. 

daniel@thepicayune.com

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