The Houston area could see an increase in the high/extreme fire danger days in the coming years due to climate change, which is creating drier forest conditions, a shift in vegetation and changes in weather patterns.
That’s according to Houston’s Community Wildfire Protection Plan (CWPP), prepared by Pro-Tech Forest Resources in December and recently reviewed by council.
According to the CWPP, longer fire seasons and an increase in forest fire frequency are expected as a result of climate change.
“We are witnessing earlier melts in spring, warmer temperatures during the winter than we saw historically 30 years or more ago,” states the CWPP. “The impacts of the changing climate are not fully understood as of yet and this issue will continue to develop as the effects become apparent.”
According to data collected from 1980 to 2017 at Dungate, Houston’s closest weather station, the Houston area has seen an average of 37 days of “high” fire danger rating per year, and about 10 days of “extreme” rating.
Although 10 days may not seem concerning, the report notes that extreme fire behaviour can also be present when the rating is “high.”
Some Houston area residences would be at higher risk due to their location adjacent to surrounding forest. These include the areas near Lund Road, Dungate Estates, Buck Flats Road, Cantor and North Road.
One of the CWPP’s recommendations is for the District of Houston to invest in a sprinkler system that could be deployed at strategic locations during a wildfire event. This would help mitigate risk to hazardous values and critical infrastructure.
The CWPP also outlines the implementation of various fuel management techniques such as harvesting, thinning and pruning, as well as creating fuel breaks, which are designed to modify fire behaviour and improve suppresion outcomes.
Has Houston ever had a large wildfire?
To date there have been no large fires recorded in the District of Houston that have threatened the community, according to Houston’s Community Wildfire Protection Plan (CWPP).
The nearest largest fire in recent history was the Swiss fire in 1983, which although some residences of Buck Flats Road were evacuated, the District of Houston was not affected in this manner.
In 2010 there was another fire located 30 km southwest of town that impacted residences on Buck Flats, and in 2014 there was a fire 20 km to the east of Houston that impacted the residences close to the fire. However, none of these fires directly impacted the District of Houston.
Although there is evidence that some large fires occurred before 1982, it is unknown what impact these fires had on the community at the time and if they caused any evacuations. In the 1920s there was a large fire north of Houston that ran all the way to Granisle, but no documentation of its impact was found, according to the CWPP.
Houston not a FireSmart certified community
The District of Houston has been encouraging residents to reduce fuel hazards through public awareness and education on FireSmart principles by distributing pamphlets.
However, there are no other education strategies being implemented, according to Houston’s Community Wildfire Protection Plan (CWPP). The CWPP recommends Houston to apply for FireSmart funding to help establish other education strategies.
Meanwhile Burns Lake, a neighbouring community of similar size, became FireSmart certified last year. The certification encourages local groups to implement solutions to protect people and properties from wildfire.
Houston Today asked the District of Houston if the municipality is considering applying to become FireSmart certified. However, the district did not respond by press time.