Austin is one of the fastest growing large cities in the country. It has more than 160,000 structures at risk in the wildland-urban interface (WUI). In 2016, Headwaters Economics profiled some of Austin’s innovative practices in a research project. Austin’s wildfire mitigation work includes partnerships to conduct prescribed burns within the city limits, joint design review processes, and strategic open space preservation to help reduce wildfire risk.
In 2016, the Austin City Council adopted a resolution to improve planning in the WUI to set a goal of “zero wildland fire-related fatalities,” and to “promote the development of wildland fire defensible strategies, and support incorporation of these strategies within the City’s existing regulatory framework to ensure communities and ecosystems are resilient to extreme fire behavior.”
To support these goals, the CPAW team collaborated with City of Austin staff and stakeholders throughout 2016 to determine Austin’s wildfire planning needs. The CPAW team conducted a multi-day site visit and audited all of Austin’s planning documents, resulting in a suite of recommendations to help Austin protect people, property, and the environment from the risks of wildfire.
Among the CPAW recommendations for Austin are:
- Improve understanding of WUI risk with clear definitions, spatial risk delineation, and clear assessments of human impacts;
- Address wildfire in Austin’s plans;
- Improve land use tools, such as the adoption of a WUI Code and zoning map changes; and
- Ensure Austin city departments and partners are coordinated in their wildfire land use planning efforts.
In 2018, CPAW researchers with Headwaters Economics developed the Austin Wildfire and Vulnerable Populations Tool. The tool helps land use planners, fire personnel, and elected officials identify neighborhoods where overlapping wildfire threats and socioeconomic vulnerabilities may make people disproportionately susceptible to wildfire.
In 2020, and with guidance from the original CPAW recommendations, Austin passed a WUI Code. The WUI Code applies to all properties and structures, including outlying buildings, in high wildfire hazard areas and requires defensible space, ignition-resistant construction materials, 1/8” meshing on all attic vents, among other wildfire mitigation measures.
- 2016 CPAW Community
- Population (2014): 912,791
- Growth Rate (2000-2015): 31.6%
- Fuel Type: Dry-climate grass, juniper shrub, juniper woodland, mixed juniper hardwood
“The CPAW report is comprehensive, concise and action oriented. We will definitely leverage this great tool for addressing our wildfire resiliency through planning.”