Efforts Completed to Date
Since June of 2011, the City of West Lake Hills has taken the following actions to reduce the risk of wildfire:
- The city enacted a citywide burn ban from September to December 2011 that banned outdoor smoking, open flames, welding, grinding, and the use of charcoal or wood grills for cooking. Violations may incur a fine of up to $2,000. (The burn ban will be implemented again in the future if conditions merit.)
- The city installed emergency signage during the burn ban at 11 locations around town warning drivers about fire hazards and fines for violations.
- The City Council voted to make an important change to the city's tree ordinances to allow property owners to request a no-fee permit to remove any juniper ("cedar") tree with a trunk dimension of less than or equal to 3 inches in size as measured at a point 54 inches above the ground. Trees removed under this new ordinance do not require any replacement.
Please note: The thought behind this ordinance is that the removal of the smaller trees will not have a noticeable impact on the overall "rural look and feel" of our community but will, over time, result in fewer cedars in our community. Please be aware that if you wish to take advantage of this new policy, you must contact the city to request a permit to do so.
- Emergency Services District 9 (ESD9) fire marshals and city inspectors have been visiting construction sites regarding fire risks.
- The city has increased code enforcement (specifically the requirement to remove all dead vegetation on all properties in the city).
- The city has installed missing blue reflectors in roadways at all fire hydrants.
- The city has trimmed the public right of way (2 feet from pavement; 14 feet up) along all city roadways.
- The City Council voted to fund a citywide Brush Collection Project in late 2011 to remove dead brush left at the curb by property owners at a total cost of $250,000.
- The city's engineers have provided detailed grade and slope information for the city's GIS mapping system so we can identify high-risk areas.
- The City Council passed an ordinance requiring new and existing locked gates to have a KNOX lock device for emergency access by authorized personnel.
- The City Council voted to fund third-party testing of water flows and pressures at all Water District 10 fire hydrants in the city.
- The City Council adopted an expedited process that would allow variance applications for tree removal that are not related to new construction to bypass the city's Zoning and Planning Commission and move directly to the City Council for deliberation.
- The City Council engaged the City Engineer to inspect all major Austin Energy power lines in the city to identify areas that need additional pruning. The findings were reported to Austin Energy.
In-Progress or Under-Consideration Efforts
The city is currently pursuing the following action items:
- The City Council is considering which types of variances may be allowed to bypass the Zoning and Planning Commission and proceed directly to the Board of Adjustment or City Council for deliberation, possibly including vegetation removal variance applications (scheduled for discussion at the April 25 council meeting).
- The City Council voted to submit an application for grant funding in order to install a shaded fuel break between Circle Ridge and Wild Basin Nature Preserve as a pilot project for additional fuel breaks in other high-risk areas of the city.
- City staff are contacting property owners along Caravan Circle and old Skyline Drive to discuss creating hard firebreaks and fire access roads utilizing a Fire Safety Easement for legal access to the property so the City may clear and maintain the fire break.
To Be Considered at a Future Date
The City Council has not ruled out the following options and may consider them at a future date:
- The City Council may consider the purchase of an all-terrain vehicle (ATV) with water tank and trailer and/or other equipment to augment ESD9's wilderness fire fighting capabilities.
- The City Council may consider an investment in fire retardation products, such as barricade to be stored at City Hall and deployed to protect City Hall and the Police offices in the event of a wildfire event.
- The City Council may consider reaching out to legislators to investigate the possibility of repealing recently enacted legislation that prevents municipalities from requiring sprinkler / fire suppression systems for new residential construction. (A building industry advocacy group opposes such requirements.)
- The city is exploring what statutory authorities it may have for adopting minimum requirements for water system pressures and flows for fire hydrants.
Not Currently Under Consideration
The city is no longer considering these action items:
- The City Council considered but chose not to pursue a project to prune all overhead vegetation along Redbud Trail and Westlake Drive to establish "blue sky" evacuation corridors.
- The City Council considered but chose not to fund improvements to the wooden deck and the access road at the Wild Basin Nature Preserve's central building that would allow better access for emergency vehicles to fight a wildfire in that area of the preserve.
- The City Council considered but chose not to require non-flammable exterior building materials for all new construction.
- The City Council considered but chose not to establish an Overlay District for high-risk properties that would establish less stringent requirements for vegetation removal within the Fire Safety Buffer Zone.
- The City Council considered but chose not to impose stricter requirements for property owners along evacuation corridors such as Redbud Trail and Westlake Drive to remove all dead brush from their properties.
- The City Council considered but chose not to pursue an AM radio transmission system for emergency notifications.
- The City Council considered but chose not to modify existing ordinances to allow for the removal of cedars (i.e., thinning, 15-foot spacing) outside of the 30-foot Fire Safety Buffer Zone that is allowed by code, except as noted above with regard to juniper ("cedar") trees with a trunk dimension of less than or equal to 3 inches in size as measured at a point 54 inches above the ground.
- The City Council considered but chose not to modify existing ordinances to expand the Fire Safety Buffer Zone to include the areas around propane tanks, pool piping, and driveways.
- The city investigated automated, remote infrared surveillance camera systems that could detect wildfires in high-risk areas of the city, but so far no viable and reliable system has been identified.