NWACA is a neighborhood with families occupying more than 4,000 homes, and we have some of the most beautiful trees and vegetation in the State of Texas. However, NWACA is also designated as one of the most potentially dangerous urban wildfire areas in Travis County. We have a series of heavily tree-filled valleys stretching from 2222 on the south to Spicewood Springs Road on the north; and between Mesa Drive on the east and Loop 360 on the west. It appears that 2015 may be an echo (a faint one, we hope) of the damage we saw in 2011 from wildfires in Central Texas. Our ongoing drought requires that we pay careful attention to ways to prevent loss of life and damage to homes.
NWACA has been providing free evaluations of home wildfire risk (we call them Firewise Assessments) for homeowners who request them for three years. These evaluations help neighbors identify ways to harden their homes from the danger of flying wildfire embers in the event that one or more of our valleys becomes a roaring inferno. And we have had some success…but we’ve been able to evaluate too few homes and they are too scattered to sufficiently slow down an ember-generated wildfire event. The individual homes that have been hardened are much safer today than they were before the assessment, but as individual homes standing alone, they do not form a barrier (a no burn zone) for the neighborhood. We need groupings of hardened homes to have any major effect on an urban wildfire, i.e. 4 to 6 or 7 hardened homes adjacent to each other, and across the street from another 4 to 6 or 7 hardened homes. To make it most useful to the whole neighborhood, we need a concerted effort to add more hardened homes directly adjacent to a grouping, and then the next, and the next – something of a virtuous pyramid scheme. So, how do we make this happen, especially when we’re all volunteers?
We need each homeowner whose home has been assessed to ask several more to do the same. We will ask our volunteer assessors, who come to your home by appointment when you ask NWACA for an assessment, to include in their visit a discussion with you about your “immediately next-door” environment, i.e. your neighbor’s house on each side of you. They will ask if you would be willing to talk with your two neighbors about what you are doing to make your home safer for your family and the neighborhood and see if they would have their homes assessed. If you are successful in getting your two next-door neighbors to get their homes assessed and hardened, your home is now doubly safe because your hardened neighbors’ homes reduce your exposure to the fire, too! Now, if each of those neighbors convinces their next door neighbors, your combined efforts are having a major impact on the safety of your whole community. When a whole street or HOA gets involved, you can become a designated Firewise Community, which has even more benefits for you and your neighbors, as we discussed in a recent article – financial incentives from insurance companies are beginning to appear, and there are sources of funds for helping remove wildfire fuel in common areas.
To take the first steps to help us all be safer, if you’ve already had a Firewise Assessment, please talk to your neighbors. If you haven’t already had a wildfire risk evaluation, go to this link and sign up: http://nwaca.org/firewise-request/