Harris has joined 15 other counties and 57 communities in Texas to implement what they're calling a Community Wildfire Protection Plan. The blueprint was signed by County Judge Ed Emmett, County Fire Marshal Mike Montgomery and Emergency Mgt. Coordinator Mark Sloan, along with members of the Texas Forest Service.
This is County Judge Emmett:
"The idea is that yes, individuals and individual agencies, knew some of the ideas of how to protect a community. But this is the first time that Harris County has put it all together in one plan, in cooperation with the Forest Service, so that the citizenry can say, 'Oh, this makes sense!'"
Mark Sloan is Harris County's Emergency Management Coordinator.
"It's an opportunity for our residents to better understand the risks and the threats that we have, and fire is one of them. And, in coordination with the Harris County Fire Marshal and our fire departments, is to put together an outreach program which will help our communities better understand what the fire risks are, how to prepare themselves, their families, and protect their property, in the case that we are again, impacted by wildland fires and community fires."
As the 8th fastest growing state in the nation, Texas is seeing many of its citizens moving to what's called the Wildland Urban Interface, a place where subdivisions and businesses meet the surrounding forests and fields. Mark Stanford is fire chief of the Texas Forest Service.
"Texas is changing, not only from the industries in the state, the number of people that have moved into the state, but the fire scenarios are also changing. We have a data base of 80,000 wildfires, 80-percent of those fires occurred within 2-miles of a town. That means 80-percent of those wildfires pose a threat to life and property."
In the past year, wildfires statewide destroyed nearly 4 million acres, more than 2,900 homes, and killed 10 people. Closer to home, wildfires scorched nearly 19,000 acres and destroyed dozens of homes in the 3 county area of Grimes, Waller and Montgomery, and a wildfire raged for 3 days at George Bush Park in west Houston.
Judge Emmett says the this plan comes at the right time.
"If we tried to do this two years ago, probably we wouldn't have near the people paying attention to it, but this is just as important to put together this kind of plan as it is to put together a community plan to deal with hurricanes."