The presentation of the county's Wildfire Protection Plan at Tuesday's meeting of the Nacogdoches County commissioners court couldn't come at a better time, according to County Judge Joe English.
Recent wildfires locally and across Texas are grim reminders of how quickly fires can spread in the extreme drought conditions the state has been experiencing and the extent of the damage they can cause.
Community Wildfire Protection Plans are intended to help communities in a pro-active way address the potential for wildfires.
Texas Forest Service has developed a user-friendly set of guides and tools - the Community Wildfire Protection Plan (CWPP) - to aid communities that wish to reduce the risk wildfires pose to homes, businesses and natural resources, according to information found at txforestservice.tamu.edu. A CWPP is "unique in that it empowers communities to share the responsibility of determining the best strategies for protecting a community and allows communities to make informed choices to decrease the hazards around them," the website says.
Six months ago, the county applied for a grant through TFS to fund a fire needs assessment for the county, "to find out where our risks are," English said. Commissioners voted to contract with the Stephen F. Austin State University College of Forestry to do the work.
"It's rather timely," English said, referring to the current extreme fire danger and the recent Angelina River Bottom Fire that consumed 6,550 acres in western Nacogdoches County and eastern Cherokee County as well as the multiple wildfires across Texas.
"Those fires have just reinforced the fact that we need to be diligent and work toward achieving some of this (wildfire plan)," he said.
And, the preventive measure was at no cost to taxpayers, English said.
"The amount of money we received from the grant, which was $10,000, was paid to Stephen F. Austin to do the assessment for us," he said.
English described the plan as a "large, detailed document." SFA forestry students drove down every county road taking photographs and mapping through GPS every site where a potential fire risk existed. The plan also outlines ways in which the identified problems can be corrected.
The plan is broken down into the 17 areas served by the 17 volunteer fire departments in Nacogdoches County, English said, providing each department with detailed information identifying problem areas.
"It's a five-year plan that we will work toward accomplishing," English said.
The document identifies such problems as houses that have been abandoned that could be a potential fire hazard and overgrown areas near structures that could catch fire and threaten the structure.
"Some of it is just a matter of leaves needing raking," English said.
The plan also documents those subdivisions that have only one way in and one way out, "which we have addressed with our new subdivision regulations," English said. "Those will never happen again."
English said he planned to apply for additional grants that could be used toward cleanup of these high-risk areas.
Etoile ISD's Firewise School Program is a good example of a program that is already in place and addressing the type of the problems Nacogdoches County's new Wildfire Protection Plan addresses, English said.
After the county plan is presented Tuesday during the county commissioners regular meeting, the court will recognize Etoile ISD for its fire prevention efforts.
"Here we are with one agenda item (the Wildfire Protection Plan) that talks about these areas and issues pertaining to fire danger, and here is an example of a community, or a school, that is already doing exactly what the fire plan says," English said.
The commissioner's court has asked the superintendent and students to come to court on Tuesday, where they will be presented with a resolution supporting and recognizing their efforts, English said.