Submitted by Stacie Durham, McKinney Fire Department
Wildfires don’t happen in the suburbs. Do they?
From Jan 1 trough Sept 30, 2011, Texas experienced more than 22,000 wildfires (often referred to as grass or brush fires), burning more than 3.8 million acres, destroying hundreds of homes and taking multiple lives. The devastating fires in Bastrop and at Possum Kingdom Lake are vivid memories. Devastating wildfires continued through 2012; and, unfortunately 2013 is expected to see a continuation of this trend.
In the past, wildfires were considered a problem primarily for outlying, rural areas; however, in the past two years 85 percent of wildfires in Texas have occurred within two miles of a community.
As McKinney’s population grows, many homes, subdivisions, and businesses lie within or near previously undeveloped areas of grass, brush and trees – the area known as the Wildland Urban Interface (WUI). As a result, nearly every local wildfire carries an increased risk for damage or destruction of homes and other improved property and even loss of life. According to the Texas Forest Service, areas of wildfire risk within McKinney city limits range from very low to high based on a number of factors, including property construction materials, proximity to areas containing brush and other vegetation, etc…
More than 90 percent of wildfires in Texas are caused by humans, as opposed to naturally occurring events such as lightening. According to McKinney Fire Chief Danny Kistner, “The population of McKinney has exploded over the past decade. Changing weather conditions, drought and urbanization of the landscape, combined with this increase in population directly impacts the number of wildfires affecting our community. Carelessly discarded smoking materials, sparks from welding and grinding equipment, burning of debris such as brush and leaf piles, children playing with matches/lighters in an outdoor setting, and arson all contribute significantly to this trend. The good news is that by taking appropriate precautions, up to 90% of wildfires can be prevented.”
With the increase in wildland fire risks in the suburban environment, we must be proactive in our prevention efforts. Residents and businesses increase the survivability of their property by making good decisions about landscaping, construction and/or renovation.
Stacie Durham, Public Information Officer for the McKinney Fire Department suggests actions individuals may take to protect their property, families, friends and pets.
“A wildfire is a threat, even if it’s miles away,” Durham said. “Blowing embers can travel long distances; and, when they land they may ignite roofs, lawn furniture, decks, fences, debris in gutters, mulch and other common items around your home and lawn. Clearing your property of debris and maintaining landscaping reduces the likelihood of ignition. Clear gutters, move firewood away from your home or wood fence, place your propane powered grill away from your home, and dispose of lawn clippings. Store gasoline, charcoal lighter fluid and other easily ignitable items in appropriate containers. Residents and the neighborhoods they live in
are linked by their wildfire risk. If one home is inadequately prepared, the risk to the entire neighborhood increases significantly, impacting everyone’s safety, including firefighters and other first responders.”