"Texas Was Warned About Risk of Building in Backcountry"

"The series of fires that broke out in the Bastrop area last weekend and killed two people, destroyed 1,400 homes and upended the lives of countless residents may have been unexpected in scope and in their ferocity. Yet to anyone who has been paying attention, the potential of a massive fire such as Austin-area residents have witnessed billowing to the east could hardly be called a surprise."

"In 1984, when a wildfire blackened 900 acres of Bastrop County's Tahitian Village, residents counted themselves lucky. The subdivision was early in its development, and so sparsely populated, that only six homes were lost.

Noting the buildup of flammable grasses and shrubs and the narrow roads and steep terrain making it difficult for firefighting equipment to maneuver, officials declared the event a wake-up call to wildfire awareness.

Nearly 25 years later, when they wrote a comprehensive Community Wildfire Protection Plan under the guidance of the Texas Forest Service, Bastrop officials identified 70 separate subdivisions at critical risk of wildfire where it would be dangerous for firefighters to work. Sweeping fire mitigation measures were proposed.

In 2009, a combination of gusty winds and concentrations of grass, pine needles and brush baked crackly dry by a historic "entrenched drought" kindled Bastrop County's Wilderness Ridge fire, which charred 1,500 acres and burned dozens of homes and businesses.

A state Forest Service review called the disaster, at the time Central Texas's worst fire, an uncommon "result of perfect storm conditions."

Last year, when the Sunset Advisory Commission reviewed the performance of the Texas Forest Service, Bastrop County's top emergency management official urged the agency to offer greater fire prevention help to communities where residential growth abuts the backcountry and fire danger was greatest.

The series of fires that broke out in the Bastrop area last weekend and killed two people, destroyed 1,400 homes and upended the lives of countless residents may have been unexpected in scope and in their ferocity. Yet to anyone who has been paying attention, the potential of a massive fire such as Austin-area residents have witnessed billowing to the east could hardly be called a surprise."

Eric Dexheimer and Tony Plohetski report for the Austin American-Statesman September 10, 2011.

SEE ALSO:

"String of Blazes Takes Toll on  Texas Firefighters" (AP)

"In Rick Perry's Texas, Firefighters Forced To Pay For Gear, Engine Fuel" (Huffington Post)

Source: Austin American-Statesman, 09/12/2011