Located on the edge of the Sam Houston National Forest, Huntsville is no stranger to wildfires. Small, low intensity blazes are a frequent event in the grasslands and wooded areas that surround Huntsville. The natural fire regime has been significantly altered in recent years due to a prolonged statewide drought. This historic drought has led to a dramatic increase in wildfire incidents and severity. To address their heightened wildfire risk, Huntsville embarked on a number of fire prevention and education efforts, most notably a series of defensible space mitigation projects and adopting the Ready, Set, Go! Program.
The Ready, Set, Go! (RSG) Program, managed by the International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC), seeks to develop and improve the dialogue between fire departments and the residents they serve on wildland fire understanding and action. The program tenants help residents be Ready with preparedness understanding, be Set with situational awareness when fire threatens, and to Go early when a fire starts. In 2010, Huntsville was one of nine fire departments chosen to pilot the program. The result has been the development of firefighter led informational sessions and the creation of instruction manuals, detailing the specifics of the program that reflect the local experience, needs of residents, and protocols in wildland fire response.
In addition to Ready, Set, Go!, Huntsville is covered by Walker County’s Community Wildfire Protection Plan, which has placed a heavy emphasis on developing Firewise communities. Elkins Lake is the most recent community to achieve Firewise status, receiving that distinction in 2011. Many residents have taken the initiative to create defensible space around their property, as well as a fuel break around the community of Elkins Lake.
Huntsville’s Assistant Fire Chief, John Hobbs, noted that “people have gotten their act together. Four years ago, some of the subdivisions were terrible. That [defensible] space gives us room to fight the fire.” Plans are currently underway to dispose of the cleared vegetation using prescribed burns. Limited resources and liability concerns, however, requires help from the public in the form of prescribed fire associations. The South Central Texas Burn Association, along with the Texas Forest Service, are working to bring to a prescribed fire association to Huntsville in the coming months.
Fire Adapted Community initiatives in Huntsville include:
- Ready, Set, Go!
- Walker County Community Wildfire Protection Plan
- Public education programs
- Thinning projects and prescribed burning
- Community of Elkins Lake fuel break
- Prescribed burning associations
Tori Brock, Ready, Set, Go!, The Huntsville Item (last visited Feb. 26, 2012).
Tori Brock, Now is the time to burn, The Huntsville Item (last visited Feb. 26, 2012)
Photo credit: Hunstville Fire Department