Austin Fire Department prepares for 2021 wildfire season — one that could arrive earlier, be more intense than in years past

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AUSTIN (KXAN) — Central Texas has seen a lot of devastating wildfires over the years.

Several elements factor into the area’s high wildfire danger. The vegetation, hills, extreme summer heat, often windy and dry weather and rapid housing development are all ingredients for wildfires to thrive, and 2021 is not off to a great start.

We’ve started off very dry, more than an inch-and-a-half below average for rainfall. The latest drought monitor update officially classifies the entire Austin area as under a drought. Because of this, we have seen many brush and grass fires flare up already. It seems wildfire season has started way earlier than normal, and the Austin Fire Department says it’s preparing for an active season.

We spoke to AFD Lieutenant Steve Gibbon about it, and he explained how there are some eerie similarities between this upcoming season and back in 2011. We all remember the 2011 Labor Day weekend wildfire that burned 7,000 acres and 57 homes in Travis County.

That same weekend in neighboring Bastrop County, wildfires torched more than 340,000 acres, destroying 1,700 homes. Gibbon said we had similar winter storms back in 2011, 10 years ago.

“In 2011 we saw a severe weather event, back then we thought three inches of snow was severe,” he said. “This year we are seeing much of the same, similar drying trends, our weather forecast for the rest of the summer is hotter and drier.”

AFD firefighters have been watching the forecast closely ever since last fall.

“We are always ready, we started watching for this fire season last fall when we started to see the La Nina developing… the weather forecast has held true to our area,” Gibbon said. “We are hotter and drier this winter. We have stepped up our staffing for wildfire response.”

The Texas A&M Forest Service helps out during wildfire season by bringing in resources from out of state and staging aircraft to dump flame retardant on fires.

Officials said they already have resources moving up into Texas as the weather begins to dry out so they can mobilize quickly in the case of a wildfire.

Steps to prepare are especially important, considering our area actually ranks No. 5 in the country for the most susceptible to a wildfire, according to a CoreLogic wildfire report released in 2019. The report says Austin is the most susceptible metro area to a wildfire outside of California.

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