AUSTIN (KXAN) - Some say it could be the area of Austin at greatest risk for a wildfire. Among the million-dollar homes along Loop 360 – the Capital of Texas Highway – thick brush and overgrowth are ready to fuel flames.
With just a few weeks left before the City Council must finalize a bond proposal for the November election, the Austin Firefighters Association is making one last attempt to convince members that area needs a fire station.
The nearest stations are miles away from the main portion of the highway near the Colorado River – one on the northern end of that stretch and two for mutual aid in West Lake.
"Imagine a 2- to 4-mile-wide flame front moving into Austin from the West," said AFA President Bob Nicks. "With the indigenous current fuel conditions in and around Austin, this is a real possibility. It is more a question of when, and not if it will happen."
Nicks said some of the council members seem supportive, as he makes final rounds. It is estimated a new station would cost around $10 million. Nicks said staffing would take another $1.5 million.
As the City Council whittles down the last details of the bond proposal, the amount will likely range from $385 million to $400 million. Much of the money will go toward transportation infrastructure, city facilities, affordable housing and parks.
In addition to the fire station, Nicks and the city's Public Safety Commission have asked council members to reconsider creating a Wildland Division within the Austin Fire Department. This would be an entity focused solely on fighting and preventing future wildfires like the Pinnacle and Steiner Ranch wildfires last year.
Nicks estimates such a division would cost around $2 million, which would pay for staff, offices, vehicles and a certified prescribed burn manager. AFD has said it supports the idea but suggest ramping up over time in order to handle costs and the project itself.
"The AFD Wildland Division would have the responsibility and authority to coordinate all (City of Austin) wildfire personnel, equipment, emergency response, training and prevention activities including proactive fuel mitigation."
Both the division and the 360 fire station are currently not included in the bond proposals. Council members must finalize their decision by August 20.
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