USA — Population growth and the expanding urban development into traditionally nonurban areas have increasingly brought humans into contact with wildfires. Between 1985 and 1994, wildfires destroyed more than 9,000 homes in the United States. Generally, these homes were located in areas where structures and other human developments meet or intermingle with undeveloped wildland or vegetative fuels, also known as the Wildland Urban Interface.
The International Wildland-Urban Interface Code is a model code that is intended to be adopted and used to supplement the adopted building and fire codes of a jurisdiction. The IWUIC has as its primary objective the establishment of minimum specific regulations for the safeguarding of life and property from intrusion of fire from wildland fire exposures and fire exposures from adjacent structures and to prevent structure fires from spreading to wildland fuels, even in the absence of fire department intervention.
Jurisdiction of the Westlake Fire Department, also known as Travis County Emergency Services District No. 9, is separated into three areas the cities of Rollingwood and West Lake Hills and the unincorporated areas of Travis County. Rollingwood and West Lake Hills adopt their own building and fire codes. In the unincorporated areas of Travis County, ESD No. 9 adopts its own fire codes but not building codes. Last year, ESD No. 9 adopted an amendment to the existing fire code to include the International Wildland Urban Interface Code.
So why did ESD No. 9 amend the fire code to include the IWUIC, and what does this mean to the average homeowner in the unincorporated areas of ESD No. 9?
The Westbank area and western Travis County have long been recognized as a high hazard Wildland Urban Interface Zone where development and wildland fuels meet. In 1961, there was a large wildland fire that burned over 4,000 aces between St. Stephens School Road and the High Road. In 2011, the Pedernales, Steiner Ranch and Bastrop Complex (Labor Day) fires reminded us that our own area can burn when the right conditions are present – pre-existing drought, high winds, low humidity and an ignition source. As a local fire chief and someone who is concerned about the safety of the community, why would I not be taking every step I can to reduce the risk of similar fires in this community? I recommended that our Board of Commissioners adopt the IWUIC and they agreed.
What does this mean to the average homeowner? Its very simple if you have dead wood on your property, take steps to remove it. If you have dead limbs in your trees, trim them. If you have questions please call us and we will help you.
Modify the fuel load around your home to create a defensible space. This does not mean to cut down all the vegetation on your property! This means reduce the continuous fuel within 30 feet of your house, or 90 feet if your home is on a steep slope. If the tops of the trees on your property are touching, trim them in such a way that they are no longer acting as a fuse toward your home. Call us and we will help you plan!
All three of the Labor Day Fires mentioned above started from sparks from electrical utilities tree limbs arcing on electrical power lines causing transformers to ignite vegetation. If you have tree limbs touching electrical wires or transformers near your property, report it to Austin Energy so trimming can be scheduled.
If you are planning to remodel the outside of your home, or if you are building a new home, follow the Wildland Urban Interface Fire Code and use ignition resistant construction materials designed to reduce the effect of flying embers around your home. We can help you identify those materials.