Austin Fire responds to numerous fires across city, warns residents to stay aware

Wildfire season is in full swing in Central Texas with blazes like the Crittenburg Complex fire scorching tens of thousands of acres. Here in Austin, fire officials say we are at critical risk for wildfires. 

"We could have a large fire if it’s burning in the right spot," said Division Chief Thayer Smith of the Austin Fire Department.

Wednesday was another Red Flag day with overnight rain doing little to help conditions.

"If you’ve got high winds and low humidity it’s just a recipe for disaster," said Smith. "Anything that gets going is going to be really hard to stop."

In Austin, there have been quite a few smaller wildfires and brush fires in the last 24 hours, like one off North Lamar Blvd. near Yager Lane Tuesday night.

"It's been all over the city. We have been very busy the past few days with that," said Smith.

People who live in South Austin say they are especially concerned about wildfires given the number of homeless encampments that have gone up in the woods near the Barton Creek Green Belt. 

One resident sent FOX 7 video of a man climbing over a fence along the Shudde Fath watershed area off Cupid Drive. Neighbors tell FOX 7 they've seen small fires in that area adjacent to their properties, and are concerned the fence makes them harder to keep an eye on. 

In a statement, Austin Water said in part: "City of Austin staff managing the Shudde Fath property are committed to reducing the risk of clearing brush and lower limbs on the perimeter...Staff regularly patrol this tract. Trespassing remains a management concern that could contribute to fire danger. The recently constructed fence will help decrease unsanctioned access..."

North of there, a viewer tweeted a video of a fire Tuesday night in a camp off Lee Barton Drive near Bouldin Creek, just feet away from where a similar fire happened Sunday night off Dawson Road.

"Certainly the camps where there’s more individuals trying to stay warm, cooking, that does cause some more concern depending on where those areas are at. We have members from the fire department on the task force, so we can communicate directly with those folks if there’s one area that’s more of a concern than another," said Smith.

Whatever the cause, Smith says the Austin Fire Department is prepared, sending extra units to brush fires, and ready to add more crews if needed. 

"Every morning we have a conference call with our wildfire division. We check the weather status. We get recommendations on what the staffing should be for that day," said Smith.

But he hopes the worst case scenario doesn't come to fruition, and that's where we all need to do our part. 

"No outdoor burning, being mindful of your cigarettes, you’re pulling a trailer, your trailer chains, making sure they’re up and not dragging on the pavement, if you’re a welder, welding outdoors near dry grass, that sort of thing," said Smith. "We’re really appreciative that we haven’t had more than we’ve had because people are heeding our warnings."

Smith says AFD has sent crews to help out at some larger wildfires around the state, with two teams assisting at the Eastland Complex Fire right now. He says that's valuable experience they can bring back in case of a large wildfire here in Austin. 

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