3-D simulation shows Austin neighborhoods how quickly wildfire can spread


AUSTIN (KXAN) — Jester Estates, which backs up to the Balcones Canyonland Preserve, is heeding the warning the neighboring Steiner Ranch wildfire left six years ago. Thursday night, the Jester Firewise Committee came together with the Austin Fire Department and Lake Travis Fire Rescue for a 3-D wildfire simulation designed to show just how quickly a wildfire can spread.

The goal is to inspire people to do their part in lowering the wildfire risk.

“If a wildfire starts in the canyon, then the entire neighborhood is at risk,” Jester Firewise Committee Chair Jeff Shapiro said.

In the years since the historical Steiner Ranch fire, Shapiro has sounded the alarm to warn neighbors of wildfire dangers. “I watched that fire and the videos that were coming out of that, looked just like my street,” Shapiro said.

Another neighborhood with one way in and one way out. “That’s when it became very real,” Shapiro told KXAN.

Next to a real fire, the 3-D simulator, called a “SimtTable” is the best way he knows how to get neighbors’ attention. It allows you to mimic the topography of a certain area and see how quickly a fire would spread in real time, under different conditions.

“We want people to understand that it’s not a big wall of fire that you have to worry about, it’s the ember storm that leads the fire. And if you keep your property clean and your bushes trimmed and keep things out of your gutter that are combustible, you have a much better chance of surviving that ember storm and not lighting the house on fire,” Shapiro said.

At the demonstration, which the Jester Firewise Committee will be uploading a video of here, Ron Herzfeld and his wife looked on, knowing the deeper meaning.

“By the time summer comes, we’re going to have a lot of fuel. And that’s a real concern,” he said, with Steiner Ranch wildfire seared in his memory. “We just need to just be prepared and go about what we need to do to protect ourselves and our property.”

Shapiro told KXAN he would like to see wildfire prevention incorporated into CodeNEXT, including an overlay map identifying areas with the highest risk and recognizing certain neighborhoods should not be designed with one way in and one way out.

Back in February, Travis County commissioners approved funding a $2.7 million emergency evacuation route in Steiner Ranch. Construction is expected to begin in 2019.

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