May 6, 2022 - News

Wildfire threat looms in Austin area

A firefighter walks through smoke in Bastrop County in 2011
A firefighter goes through a hotspot amid the devastation left by wildfires in Bastrop County in 2011. Photo: Erich Schlegel/Getty Images

As temperatures near triple digits, some local fire experts are sounding the alarm about the prospect of major wildfires.

The big picture: Dry conditions have led the National Weather Service to issue red-flag warnings a few times in Central Texas this spring to alert residents about the very real prospect that one spark could lead to a blaze — though recent rains appear to have dampened the threat.

What they're saying: "I think we've got a bad year coming," Randy Denzer, vice president of the Austin Firefighters Association, told the Statesman about the upcoming wildfire season. "I'm telling you, everything looks exactly the same as it did in 2011."

  • That year, the Bastrop County Complex Fire burned 34,000 acres, destroyed 1,660 homes, killed two people and injured 12 others. Charred trees still dot the landscape in parts of the county.
  • Travis County has had a burn ban in effect for more than two months. Nearby Hill Country counties such as Burnet, Llano and Gillespie also have burn bans in place.

By the numbers: Year to date, western Travis County has received about 75% of normal rainfall.

Yes, but: Recent rains have cut the near-term prospects for wildfires.

Zoom out: Texas is more prone to drought when La Niña conditions are present in the tropical Pacific Ocean — as they are now — driving the jet stream north and leaving parts of the U.S. especially dry.

  • Meanwhile, Texas' climate is generally growing hotter and drier amid human-induced global warming.

Bottom line: Be careful out there. Avoid using lawnmowers on dry vegetation — as well as chainsaws and other equipment during hot and dry days.

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