By Julie Chang
With wildfire season expected to mimic the crisp conditions of 2011, the Austin Fire Department said it’s more prepared than ever.
The department plans to share an additional aircraft with StarFlight to battle wildfires, strengthen staffing for windy days and create evacuation maps for fire susceptible areas, officials told the Public Safety Commissioners on Monday.
“We’re getting in bad shape really fast,” said Jim Linardos, the assistant director of the newly created wildfire division of the Fire Department. “If we don’t get some rain, we’re going to start feeling the hurt. We could enter into a scenario like in 2011 that affected a lot of people.”
Backtracking on the 2013 Fire Department budget that did not add funding for wildfire protection, the City Council in October approved funding for the creation of the wildfire division and its plans.
“The fact that the mayor saw fit to give additional funding underlies how critical the threat is,” fire chief of staff Harry Evans said.
Commissioners asked that Linardos and Evans come back with a 5-year fuel mitigation plan to identify, remove or alter vegetation that could serve as kindle. Commissioners also want fire prevention services to be available to non-English speakers.
Last year, the commission also recommended that a third fire station be built in the Loop 360 corridor, stating that the existing fire stations provide insufficient protection for several thousand structures in parts of western Austin.
The City Council failed to put a third fire station on the November bond election.
Evans said they will eventually need it.