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Updated: Tuesday, 04 Sep 2012, 6:40 PM CDT
Published : Tuesday, 04 Sep 2012, 4:10 PM CDT
TRAVIS COUNTY, Texas (KXAN) - A year after a wildfire destroyed 25 homes in Steiner Ranch, the neighborhood has become a safer place to live.
Steiner Ranch sits on the Balcones Canyonland Preserve, which is one of Travis County's highest risk areas for wildfires. But people in the community have worked together to protect themselves from future outbreaks.
Michael Underwood was one of the wildfire victims during Labor Day weekend in 2011. His family's home burned down, and they lost their dog in the blaze. He's not building again on the same lot, but he has decided to stay in Steiner Ranch.
Support from the community has been overwhelming, he said.
"You just can't imagine what it feels like when someone you don't even know comes up and gives you a $200 gift card," said Underwood. "I've got two little boys, and they have a closet full of brand-new clothes."
Steiner Ranch's neighborhood association formed a firewise committee in January, and Nathasha Collman has volunteered to lead the charge in educating the community on wildfire hazards.
"We're aware that we live in an area that's prone to wildfire," said Collman. "We're in an at-risk area, and people have to pay attention."
The neighborhood is in constant talks with Travis County about evacuation plans, but building additional roads may not be an option. The focus is adaptability. They play to use the schools and community centers as staging areas in case of evacuation, and build shelters-in-place by clearing brush around the edges of the greenbelt.
"We still have a ton of dead trees back behind the fences," added Collman. "We still have residents that have wood fences and decking and other materials. So, we still have a lot of work to do."
In August, the neighborhood had a huge turnout for its fuel reduction workday. They joined forces with the Lake Travis Fire and Rescue team, which created a wildland crew in June, specifically to trim back trees and minimize wildfire threats.
"We go in with hand tools, power equipment, and a chipper," said Lake Travis Fire and Rescue assistant fire chief John Durham.
Steiner Ranch is still growing, but fire safety efforts have become a part of life. New homeowners receive information on their "Ready, Set, Go" program at move-in. "Ready, Set, Go" is a planning guide in case of a wildfire, including emergency phone numbers, evacuation plans, and a checklist of items to save and leave in the event of a wildfire.
Steiner Ranch held its Concert in the Park in August to raise money to replant trees that were lost in the fires. They've also earned national recognition from the National Forest Service as a 2012 Firewise Community for the residents' safety efforts.
Neighboring community River Place , which also sits on Balcones Canyonland Preserve, has been a Firewise Community since 2008.
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