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Texas Forest Service

By Jim Blott

During the mid-80s, people began migrating from the hustle and bustle of the city to the peaceful, undeveloped settings outside of towns in every region of Texas. This migration has led to a number of devastating fires that have destroyed lives, homes and their surrounding wildlands.

According to figures released by the Texas Forest Service, four lives were lost to wildfires in the state of Texas in 2005. More than $7.1 million in property damage occurred, and more than 422,939 acres of wildland was destroyed. All at a cost of $57.7 million.

Texas Forest exhibit trailer with tent canopy

To help prevent this scenario from repeating, the Texas Forest Service (TFS) has developed a new program to educate Texans on how to protect their homes and families from fire in wildland areas. These wildland communities, referred to as urban wildland interface, are geographical areas where combustible homes are mixed with combustible vegetation.

Texas Forest van and exhibit trailer

The "Urban Wildland Interface" traveling exhibit is part of this program. The mobile exhibit, manned by TFS personnel, is traveling across Texas visiting home and trade shows, county and state fairs, festivals, schools, fire safety exhibits, conventions, and any place the exhibit can reach masses and impart this very critical information.

"This one-of-a-kind exhibit is sure to catch the public's attention with its eye-opening graphics of flames licking the entire outer shell of the vehicles.

"We have created something that will heighten the public's awareness to a very serious matter. Through these efforts, we expect to educate upwards of 500,000 people a year."

The exhibit trailer opens to two sides each displaying a video monitor which airs a seven-minute DVD movie featuring character Tex Forester telling a tale of devastating fires and sharing step-by-step fire prevention tips that can help prevent the loss of life and home to fire. The exhibit includes two computers running a CD interactive gave. Players of all ages can use the information gained from the video and exhibit to test newly-honed firewise skills. If their knowledge is lacking, they will learn firsthand through the computer animation how quickly mistakes can lead to devastating fire.

Find Your Defensible Space

A defensible space wheel is mounted on the exhibit doors to allow the public to estimate the amount of defensible space needed around a home. The wheel allows for slope, landscape and vegetation type, and height of a home. Also depicted are fuel types and fire behavior. An Urban Wildland Interface brochure for public distribution as well as other printed materials covering tire-safety checklists, developing a fire-evacuation plan, landscaping, and other fire safety topics.

A model home features defensible space—the space around a home the Texas Forest Service recommends should be cleared of debris—landscaped with fire resistive vegetation, and designed to illustrate the space needed to allow firefighters room to fight a fire. All of these measures give the structure an opportunity to survive a wildfire.

The Texas Forest Service considers the traveling exhibit a critical tool in illustrating and demonstrating what can be done to protect a home and property, and more importantly how just a few steps can go a long way in making a home firewise.

"We're proud of this exhibit. It's something we've been planning and discussing for a long time. And, now that it's ready, we feel we can reach the masses with a tool that makes all of this information easy to understand, but also reminds people that if they don't take action they could lose everything important to them."

The Texas Forest Service was created in 1915 by the 34th Legislature as an integral part of The Texas A&M University System. It is mandated by law to "assume direction of all forest interests and all matters pertaining to forestry within the jurisdiction of the state." Today the Texas Forest Service has more than 354 employees in offices across the state.

Jim Blott is a retired State Wildland Urban Interface Coordinator of the Texas Forest Service.

For information regarding forestry, please email tx-stateforester@tamu.edu. For more information on the exhibit, or on how to schedule an exhibit appearance, please call the office of the state urban wildland interface coordinator at (936) 273-2263 or (936) 273-2261.

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