Staples convenes inaugural meeting of Texas Wildfire Prevention Taskforce

Source: Texas Department of Agriculture

As Texas continues to recover from the losses of last year’s historic wildfire season, on May 9 Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples convened the inaugural meeting of the Texas Wildfire Prevention Task Force to maximize wildfire mitigation strategies across the state.

“With a state as vast in size and as diverse in environment as Texas, we must be strategic in our wildfire mitigation efforts,” Staples said. “Many brave Texans risked their lives fighting fires last year, yet the historic 2011 wildfire season claimed nearly 4 million acres in Texas and was truly devastating to the people, property and natural resources of our state. As Texas prepares for another potentially active wildfire season it is important to ensure first responders, local and state officials, and landowners are aligned in both fire mitigation and response efforts.”

Last year the Texas Forest Service and local fire departments responded to more than 30,000 individual fires burning nearly 4 million acres in Texas. Priorities of the Texas Wildfire Prevention Task Force will include reducing the cause of wildfires by strategically identifying and targeting priority areas of the state for fuels reduction. In partnership with the Texas Division of Emergency Management, the Texas Forest Service and the Texas State Soil and Water Conservation Board, the task force will facilitate communication with local leaders and landowners to identify high risk areas where fire mitigation resources are most needed.

“Texas emergency management officials, our local leaders and fire departments have time and again worked tirelessly to protect our communities from dangerous wildfires,” said Texas Division of Emergency Management Chief Nim Kidd. “The power of a fast-spreading wildfire can quickly endanger a community, which our state saw during last year’s historic wildfire season. This task force will take on the important work of helping communities use preventative measures, like increasing prescribed burns, to prevent wildfires before they even start.”

“I’ve said it before, ‘If all hell’s going to break loose – I want to be in Texas!’ Why? Because the fire service in this state stands together and we work hard on interagency coordination,” said Texas Forest Service Director Tom Boggus. “All branches of Texas fire service – paid and volunteer – work to make Texas a national model and leader for wildfire prevention and mitigation.”

Staples has worked with the Legislature to identify and implement tools to limit the spread of wildfires, including several enhancements to the state’s certification program for trained and insured prescribed burn managers, which resides at the Texas Department of Agriculture. New licensing categories have been created, which have facilitated more than a 350-percent increase in the number of qualified, licensed and insured prescribed burn managers in Texas. This action will in turn increase the use of prescribed burns to help reduce the threat of wildfires.

In Texas, certified prescribed burn managers utilize controlled and intentional fire as a tool to reduce grasses, brush and natural overgrowth that often fuel uncontrolled wildfires.

“Controlled fire is the best tool to prevent wildfires,” Staples said. “Trying to control a wildfire is much more costly and difficult than eliminating the fuel for that wildfire before it starts. The updates in our prescribed burning procedures and the new Texas Wildfire Prevention Task Force will help reduce the risk of potential wildfires, which risk the lives of our citizens and damage communities, crops, livestock and wildlife.”

The task force will complement new web applications created by the Texas Forest Service and the Texas A&M University System that will help homeowners and communities determine wildfire risk — and take measures to mitigate potential hazards. The web application will arm Texans with the tools they need to reduce threats from future blazes. The Texas Wildfire Risk Assessment Portal, or TxWRAP, allows users to identify wildfire threats for a particular area based on landscape characteristics, historical fire occurrence, weather conditions, terrain and potential fire behavior.

The applications are free to use and can be accessed at texaswildfirerisk.com.

For a full list of Texas Wildfire Prevention Task Force members, click here.

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