WESTLAKE HILLS, Texas (KXAN) - In 2007, the Weather Channel catastrophe series "It Could Happen Tomorrow" named the city of Westlake Hills as one of the country's most at-risk areas for a devastating wildfire. Since then, the city has taken action.
"You can be in the middle of Austin essentially – but be in a forest." Robert Wood, city manager for Westlake Hills said. "People like that aspect of the town."
But the area's hilly terrain, dense vegetation and expensive homes could be a recipe for disaster. That's why the city of Westlake Hills is taking steps to reduce that risk.
"Recently, we've tried to focus on the fuel," Wood said. "One of the fears is that you have a lot of dead wood on the property, you have dead wood on the side of the road, dead vegetation, and that catches and spreads quickly through the forest."
That's why Westlake Hills has spent more than $600,000 on residential dead brush pickup. The city has also teamed up with the Westlake Fire Department to help stop wildfires before they start – offering free risk assessments of residents' properties.
Lt. Heath Nobles of the Westlake Fire Department is one of the firefighters helping with this effort.
"Can we get in, can we fight, can we protect it, can it protect itself and not have to be treated?" he asked.
With this service, a member of the fire department will conduct a free survey of a property, assessing its vulnerability to a wildfire.
What is the most common thing homeowners need to do?
"Get any dead leaf litter and broken dead limbs back off the property – get them composted, have them chipped up or hauled off," Nobles said.
These prevention measures are a big investment for a city with a much smaller budget than the city of Austin. But they say it's worth it.
"With an average home value that's over $700,000, it wouldn't take very long for the damage to add up to a pretty big dollar amount," Wood said.
Those who live in the area and want to schedule a free fire risk assessment for a home can call the Westlake Fire Department at 512-539-3400.
Also, check out KXAN's Wildfire Action page in our Severe Weather Guide.
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