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Assessing the risk of wildfires

While one hopes that it won’t be a problem this year, the Harris County Fire Marshall has come up with a plan to protect vulnerable areas from wildfires.

Four months ago, Harris County became the most populated county in the state to finalize a Community Wildfire Protection Plan. It identified areas facing the greatest wildfire risk, including Katy, Waller, Cypress Fairbanks, Spring and The Woodlands.

Each community is threatened, in part, because they rank “high” for intermixing homes and commercial structures with forests and other wildland vegetation that can become fuel for fires.

“More and more, we have bedroom communities moving into the woods and brush for the scenic beauty. They often abut large areas of woods,” said Brad Smith, Texas Forest Service spokesman.

This urbanization of areas that were historically farm, ranch or woodlands is putting increasing numbers of homeowners at risk, the protection plan warned.

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A key factor in fighting any fire is access to water. But the protection plan noted that a pressing problem for developments in once-rural areas can be limited water supplies.

“Most water lines into unincorporated housing areas in the county have insufficient capacity to effectively pressure water hydrants for fire suppression,” the report said, noting it would also be cost prohibitive to upgrade those lines and hydrants.

The report recommends mapping all potential water sources – from stock ponds to creeks – as well as listing GPS coordinates for all hydrants that can supply water that could be trucked to a fire scene.

Here’s the Fire Marshall’s Community Wildfire Protection page, here’s the Executive Summary of the Community Wildfire Protection Plan (CWPP), and here’s the full plan, which is on the CWPP page. Not surprisingly, the areas most at risk are in the farthest north and northwest parts of the county. The Fire Marshall used the Texas Forest Service’s Wildfire Risk Assessment tool, which you can use as well if you want to know what your own personal risk is here. As I am firmly entrenched in the urban core mine is fairly low, but given the concerns last year about Memorial Park going up in flames, I’m not going to get too cocky about that. Take a look and see how you fare.

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