Texas eyes control burns as wildfire tool

Jan. 4, 2013 at 3:58 PM
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AUSTIN, Texas, Jan. 4 (UPI) -- Texas officials say control burns are needed to deal with areas of drought-parched trees and vegetation that could be fuel for devastating wildfires.

The state's 2011 fire season was the worst on record, highlighted by the Bastrop County fire that killed two and destroyed more than 1,700 structures, officials said.

Unburned fuel in the form of dead trees and vegetation remains a threat, they said.

"We still have thousands and thousands of acres in Bastrop County that are susceptible to wildfire," Mike Fisher, head of Bastrop County's emergency management office, told the Austin (Texas)) American-Statesman.

The 2011 fires had many local firefighters and elected officials reconsidering the use of prescribed burns to remove dry vegetation that could provide a setting for another disastrous round of wildfires.

Prescribed burning is the most cost-efficient way clear the unburned fuel, they said, and has less impact on the land than using bulldozers or other heavy equipment.

"Not all fire is bad," said Jim Linardos of the Austin Fire Department, who is leading the department's new wildfire mitigation division. "It's the way nature did things before we came and started suppressing fire."

Current Texas law allows prescribed burning for land management and improving wildlife habitat but not for wildfire prevention.

"That's an issue that needs to be worked out," said Dave Redden of the South Central Texas Prescribed Burn Association, set up by landowners and naturalists trained in conducting preventative burns. "We need to be able to burn for public safety."

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