Wednesday, December 22, 2010

North Austin fire; cause unknown

Updated: Sunday, 19 Dec 2010, 11:39 PM CST
Published : Sunday, 19 Dec 2010, 3:01 PM CST

AUSTIN, Texas (KXAN) - Firefighters battled a grass fire in north Austin this afternoon, taming it after one hour.

A neighbor, however, was the first fight the flames that started in a vacant lot near the intersection of Guadalupe and San Jose.

"I went in my house and grabbed three fire extinguishers," said Juan Bercerra.? "Then I went [to the fire]."

Bercerra's was not match for the one acre fire.

Firefighters contained the flames but not before calling for back up.

A new drought cycle along with recent weather is being blamed for the ripe fire conditions.

"With the wind blowing fifteen to twenty mph today and the gusts, obviously dry conditions we've had plus the on-going drought, there was some danger to all neighbors on this side of the fire," said Battalion Chief Thayer Smith.

No one was injured.

Still, central Texans are not out of the woods when it comes to future fires.

"The soil moisture is gone, so our region is really dry, really starved for rain," said Lower Colorado River Authority meteorologist Bob Rose.

Both Smith and Rose warn that Austinites and anyone living in central Texas need to take precautions because brush fires can spark quickly by the smallest of things.

"Anything, a cigarette, electric poles, burning trash...welding," Smith explained.

A warning that needs heeding until wetter weather makes an appearance.

"Conditions are not going to improve, in fact, they may get worse, unless we do get some rain," Rose said.

Rose doesn't believe drought like conditions are as bad as they were in 2009, but the Bercerra family knows how lucky they are to be alive and still have a home.

"Good that he went outside because if not, our house would have been burned," said Jennifer Bercerra, Juan's daughter.

While most counties do have a burn ban in place, Rose and Smith are asking anyone who plans on blowing off fireworks this holiday season to either not to or do so with extreme caution.

Winter Extreme Wildfire Danger

Texas faces extreme wildfire danger this winter. Experts say high winds and dry conditions are setting the stage for massive and destructive fires – many predicted to occur within two miles of urban areas. In the last five years, ten such firestorms have destroyed 1,065 structures and killed 22 people. An estimated 90 percent of all Texas wildfires are caused by human activity. Texans can help prevent wildfires if they:

? Be careful when pulling off a road or driving into a field. Hot catalytic converters can ignite vegetation.

? If you smoke in your car, extinguish cigarettes in vehicle ashtrays. Never toss a cigarette out of a car window, and don’t put cigarettes out on the ground. IH-35 and IH-20 are especially prone to fire danger this year.

? Avoid burning trash. The greatest single cause of wildfire is sparks or burning trash blown into the air because debris is not properly contained. Even a barrel covered with a screen can allow a spark to escape, igniting nearby vegetation.

? Keep a fire extinguisher and water handy when working outdoors with equipment that gets hot, or involves sparks, such as welding equipment. Water down outdoor work areas in advance if possible.

? Don’t use fireworks. Do respect burn bans when your county officials declare them.

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