- Key concepts:
- urban wildfire catastrophes, Khaki Green, Austin
- Attention Conservation Notice:
- you probably don't live in Austin. Your turn is coming, though. If your turn hasn't happened already.
'Catastrophe' for Austin if wildfires hit
Official says crews could not fend off blazes like the ones raging in the Panhandle.
By Laylan Copelin, Claire Osborn, AMERICAN-STATESMAN STAFF (((Thank you Laylan Copelin and Clair Osborn, genuine working journalists!)))
Thursday, March 16, 2006
AMARILLO – Authorities urged residents in six Panhandle towns to evacuate Wednesday and warned that the state's largest wildfire outbreak in history could cross into Oklahoma.
Fire officials recommended that about 3,000 residents in Lipscomb County, in the far northeastern corner of the Panhandle, evacuate after winds gusting to 30 miles per hour began spreading the fire that started near Borger on Sunday. However, the county judge stopped short of making the evacuation mandatory.
Although this fire was raging in sparsely populated ranching country, Texas Forest Service Director James B. Hull warned Wednesday that such a fire striking Austin and Travis County would yield a more nightmarish fate.
"Austin is going to be the worst catastrophe Texas has ever seen," Hull said as he toured firefighting operations in the Panhandle. "The conditions we're having in the Panhandle right now, when it gets to Austin, it will be a tragedy."
(((I started the Viridian Movement in 1998, when wildfires from drought-stricken jungles in Chiapas were spewing smoke over Austin in an arc that reached Chicago. Today it's not Mexico. It's here. Two percent of the landmass of Texas has burned since Christmas. Here, look:)))
Mix drought conditions and high winds in an urban-area forest like the cedar-covered hills of western Travis County and the area would be a tinder box of gigantic proportions, Hull said.
(((There shouldn't be that much cedar fuel there. Cedar is full of volatile cedar oils. Cedar used to burn when grasslands caught fire from natural causes. Thanks to barbed wire, however, Texas is no longer the open range, so the cedar proliferates rapidly. I happen to be violently allergic to cedar pollen (the tree in question is 'mountain juniper,' strictly speaking), so there's a certain schadenfreude here, but if you've ever seen dry cedar burn, which I have, those trees go up like oil-bombs.)))
Austin Fire Department Battalion Chief Palmer Buck agreed: "It would not be what house we are going to save... it would be what neighborhood are we going to save."
What a heavily-wooded, hilly city looks like when its urban vegetation burns: http://www.firewise.org/pubs/theOaklandBerkeleyHillsFire/
The Fire Department does not have the resources to fight a major wildfire in the hills along Lake Austin or the rugged terrain of the Balcones Canyonlands Preserve area, Buck said.
(((Nobody's "got the resources" to deal with climate change. It's gonna take a massive remobilization of the whole economic base, something like a comprehensive, 1989-style shock. In the meantime, they're trying to patch it up with mercenaries, so they don't have to take charge themselves. Who's gonna pay these guys? Climate change doesn't mean a passing aberration or two. It means a changed climate. We're going to have vast corps of people doing this: for keeps.)))
Hull, whose agency is charged with coordinating wildfire response, said the Legislature never has fully funded a state wildfire plan developed in 1998. (((Great job Brownie! Do you know why Hull is going on the record with all this? Because Hull's in charge and Hull knows what happened to Brownie.)))
Senate Finance Committee Chairman Steve Ogden, R-Bryan, said Wednesday that lawmakers have not been able to give the forest service all the money it needs because of ongoing budget constraints.
(((The planet's going broke, you incompetent morons!
The state you represent is on fire! Stop doing the
"ostrich maneuver!" Do you think your fatcat
oil lobbyists are going to pay to rebuild your own
(((This is the capital's newspaper of record, soberly discussing the likelihood of the state's capital going up in an inferno! Austin is where you meet to divvy up the pork! Do you think you're going to breeze your way to re-election in the middle of a flaming Katrina? You're too stupid to live!)))
"One of the issues that the Legislature needs to look at – now that we've had serious outbreaks of fires – is whether or not in hindsight we should have funded that," Ogden said. Legislators had questioned whether rural firefighters and cities already had enough equipment to fight serious fires, Ogden said.
(((They're NOT GOING AWAY, these climate crises. Texas has the most violent and unstable weather in North America. The wolf is at the door, pal. If a scientist cries wolf, you can spin that, but if the wolf is at the door, you can't spin him.)))
Hull says they don't.
The 1,800 volunteer fire departments with 40,000 firefighters are the backbone of protection in rural communities. But almost half those departments have budgets of $10,000 or less. Hull said volunteer departments often have old equipment and are not equipped to battle blazes that last days or weeks. (((Not "days or weeks." DECADES! LIFETIMES! Wake up to it! Get used to it! Hell, if Lovelock is right, we end up huddled around molten puddles at the poles! And you're in there gerrymandering? That's what you've got to contribute, as a political leadership? It's your watch! New Orleans is a day-trip away, people! New Orleans is a basketcase, just like Galveston was in 1901. You're like some kind of Brezhnev Comintern who pulls the curtains over the windows so that nobody notices that the train has stopped. God help you.)))
If the state fully funded the wildfire plan, it could do more, Hull said.
When Sunday's 55-mph winds first fueled the Panhandle fires, the state at first could offer only minimal backup to local fire departments. The Texas Forest Service had a management team in Amarillo and, luckily, had been able to get five large air tankers from the U.S. Forest Service to fly from Albuquerque, N.M., and Ardmore, Okla., to drop fire retardant.
Typically, those planes would be fighting fires in other parts of the country, ((("typically"))) and Texas would have to rely on eight National Guard helicopters to fly large buckets of water to the fires. The war in Iraq, however, has reduced that option. (((How handy.)))
"There have been times when none of the helicopters
were available," Hull said.
He said several states, including California, Georgia, Florida, Minnesota and North Carolina, maintain their own fleets. Even if Texas can't afford that, Hull said, the state should have planes under contract for emergencies. (((How do you "afford" losing major towns to catastrophes? Do you have a line-item for that?)))
"Texas is 'renting' its fire protection from other states and the federal government," Hull said.
Although state firefighting officials were able to predict the threat of the Panhandle fires because of the projected wind speeds, drought conditions and low humidity, they had no firefighting equipment on the ground to back up local operations.
Twenty-four firefighters from Travis County arrived Wednesday to help fight a 54,000-acre fire south of Childress.
Part of the problem is the sheer size of the state. (((It's the sheer size of the planet.)))
"We're fighting fires all the way from Laredo to East Texas, through the Hill Country, to here in the Panhandle," Hull said. "We're stretched very thin." (((Meanwhile, Oklahoma's kindling. Good thing we Texans don't need to fret about that, eh?)))
In 1998, the Forest Service, a state agency affiliated with Texas A&M University, provided the Legislature with a wildfire protection plan.
Hull said it calls for stationing people and firefighting resources regionally so it would be easier to support local efforts. On top of the $4 million a year the state gives his agency for the wildfire prevention plan, Hull said he needs another $12 million to fully implement the plan.
Lawmakers actually raised the agency's total budget (which includes operations beyond firefighting) slightly to $23.7 million last year. That came at a time when other agencies faced reductions to balance the budget, House Speaker Tom Craddick said.
"Regretfully, the Legislature is unable to anticipate natural disasters of this kind," Craddick said. (((That's because, in order to support your lords and masters in the fossil fuel industry, you are blindfolding yourself and the population in order to march faster off the cliff. Of course you could "anticipate" it! You don't WANT to anticipate it, so, instead, you obfuscated it. You are living a lie.))) "We are currently working with the Forest Service staff to address their funding needs as they deal with this emergency." (((Perhaps you can rename the Forest Service as the "Blackened Wasteland Homeland Security Service".)))
Gov. Rick Perry's office said that the state is already doing some of the regional planning Hull is talking about and that the forest service might be able to shift money from other parts of its budget. (((I take a certain grim satisfaction in watching this happen while this Republican know-nothing is in office. Even if Perry's replaced by a japing radical lunatic like Kinky Friedman, however, that's not gonna reduce the intensity of the 2006 hurricane season. Not to mention 2007, 08, 09, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30, 2031... The climate change problem is already two hundred years old.)))
"There's been a whole lot of disaster planning that has occurred since 1998, and what the governor has directed... is to pre-position assets, firefighters and equipment in location so they can be moved as quickly as possible to areas that have the need," Perry spokeswoman Kathy Walt said. (((You need to preposition people in oil wells and coal-fired power plants, and shut the damned things off.)))
Perry will visit the Panhandle today. A study done
by the Austin Fire Department in 2003 showed that
about 50,000 homes in Travis County are in either
extreme- or high-risk fire zones. Fire officials
have been holding educational sessions in high-risk
neighborhoods asking residents to clear brush away
from their homes, Buck said.
(((Are you an Austinite? Do it. I know the tree looks pretty and you want to hug it. A burning tree is not the friend of your roof. Or your neighbor's roof.)))
Since Dec. 1, Hull said, there have been 8,900 wildfires in Texas fought at a cost of $41 million, which will be shared by the federal, state and local governments. Eighty-five percent of the fires started within two miles of a town or city.
"Texas still has a rural mentality," Hull said. "But with 22.5 million people, we are an urban state, and we have to plan for that urban catastrophe."