Is Austin Texas the Next Mega Fire Risk?
"All it will take for Central Texas to become the next area engulfed by catastrophic wildfires like those seen in Australia is a dry spring and summer, an errant flame and sustained winds."
Currently, Austin, Texas regularly has two of the three key components for a mega-fire; they have triple digit heat and dryness. Bob Nicks, President of the Austin Firefighters Union, said when discussing the Australian fires in the Fall of 2019, "Austin's lack of sustained winds are now the only thing protecting Austin from a similar fate..." He observed, "Austin's luck will eventually run dry."
"If a fire was sparked in West Austin during hot, dry conditions when sustained winds were present, there would be no stopping it from destroying everything in its path," according to Nicks.
We are conditioned to hearing about fires in California and the Pacific Northwest, but not so much Texas. However, Texas has a recent history that should suggest otherwise. Consider what happened in 2011:
- 31,453 total fires
- 4,011,709 acres burned
- $514 million dollars in damage
- 10 fatalities
- The Bastrop County Complex Fire alone was responsible for 4 fatalities, $325 million of losses and 34,000 acres burned.
In the last few years, Austin has seen more rain than usual and no fires which has led to a buildup of fuels. CoreLogic, a data and analytics company that provides data to insurance companies, has identified over 53,000 homes in Austin that are in high and extreme fire risk zones. They estimate the cost to rebuild the houses in these areas to be in excess of $16 billion. This year the Austin City Council may vote on a plan that would require new construction near wildland areas be built with ignition resistant materials.
*The total number of acres burned in 2011, according to the Texarkana Gazette article was 9.9 million acres which is different from the number of burned acres reported by Texas A&M and other sources which sited just over 4 million acres burned.