Balch Springs wildfire set to inspire better land management, building safety

After a devastating wildfire on Monday, a Balch Springs resident said he had “lost everything”. Twenty-six houses were damaged and nine were destroyed.

Wildfires in Texas have become more frequent and severe in recent decades as climate change warms and dries out our state. The threat is approaching Dallas-Fort Worth, which is “the area of ​​greatest concern” in Texas right now, according to Andy McCrady, program coordinator for the Texas A&M Forest Service.

As a society, we must strive to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and avoid the worst effects of climate change. This includes the transition to cleaner renewable energy. Rising global temperatures pose a serious risk to our state. But we also need to do more to protect our homes and communities from fire hazards. This will require taking land management and building security seriously.

Much is still unknown about Monday’s fires, but early indications suggest overgrown vegetation played a role, as we reported on Tuesday.

The fire started in a yard with overgrown grass, Balch Springs Fire Marshal Sean Davis said. The owners had received two code summonses and a court summons. The fire started while workers were mowing the lawn, Davis said.

Wildfires have always been a part of life in Texas, but development has exacerbated the problem, according to a 2011 Forest Service report.

As rural areas become more residential, the risk of wildfire increases. Practices that help reduce wildfire risk — including animal grazing and, yes, controlled burns — are declining in developed areas. Vegetation can become invasive. The result? Ignition.

During a drought, this invasive vegetation is particularly dangerous. Dry vegetation can help a fire sweep across the landscape.

We should celebrate Texas’ growth, but we should also responsibly adapt our land management practices to account for the growing danger of wildfires. This includes a review of regulations to ensure they are updated to address the danger that fires pose to entire communities. Individual homeowners, meanwhile, will need to be more active in taking steps to protect their homes from fires. The government cannot be responsible for mowing the lawn, after all.

The Wildland-Urban Interface, or WUI, code offers guidance on preventing wildfire damage – from building structures to managing vegetation. Austin adopted the code in 2020, and other cities could learn from WUI’s guidance.

The destruction of Balch Springs is devastating. He should also remind Texans to take this growing threat seriously. For people who feel helpless, McCrady recommends the Forest Service website, which offers tips to protect your home and community from wildfires:

“Anyone who saw this fire yesterday and felt like it could have been me, now is a great time to visit our website and check out some of this advice.”

The city has repeatedly called for the grass to be cut ahead of the fire that scorched homes in Balch Springs

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