Harker Heights: Agencies collaborate on line of defense against wildfires

(Photo by Chelsea Edwards)

HARKER HEIGHTS, Texas (KWTX) With temperatures dipping below forty, it may not feel like wildfire season yet, but firefighters are already protecting residents from its devastating effects.

In Harker Heights, many areas are surrounded by grass and plant life, where all it takes is a simple spark to put hundreds of homes in danger.

The Harker Heights Fire Department, Texas A&M Forest Service and Army Corps of Engineers are banding together to create the first line of defense to prevent that from happening.

They are joining forces to clear out a firebreak line near Stillhouse Hollow Lake.

It will help slow wildfires from spreading by removing flammable plants and fallen trees and creating access for firetrucks in case of an emergency.

"It's to take care of what we call non-native trees, such as our cedars, our junipers, and leave our hardwoods alone,” says Glenn Gallenstein, Harker Heights Deputy Fire Chief of Operations.

“We're going to trim them up, make it so that we don't destroy the nature. We can live with nature and still protect our homes and our properties," he adds.

The agencies held a joint press conference Monday morning about the project which will start at the Army Corps property boundary and run near Cedar Gap Park to the east end of Fuller Ln.

The firebreak line will be about 25 feet wide and three miles long.

Back in 2008, a grass fire forced the evacuation of several homes in the area, particularly the Bella Vista neighborhood. Firefighters were able to put out the fire before it reached the houses, but the flames had quickly gotten too close for comfort.

After that incident, officials say they have been working for years to get the firebreak project underway which required numerous permissions and water and environmental studies.

“It couldn't have been done super-fast. We had to make sure we looked through everything, make sure we were very thorough- so that's why it took so long. I would have loved to have it done six years ago,” says Gallenstein.

Although the area has a dense wildlife population, officials say the project has been planned to have little effect on it.

The first phase has to be complete by the end of February when mating season begins for protected bird species. Also, residents shouldn’t have to worry about snakes migrating into neighborhoods since the work is being done during their dormant season.

Residents are also encouraged to clear out heavy vegetation within 30 feet of any structures in order to assist agencies in gaining access and cutting fuel for fires close to homes.

“We had a very extreme fire season last year,” says Victoria Cruz, Wild and Urban Interface specialist with Texas A&M Forrest Service.

“We're just trying to be preventative and jump ahead of it before it can get bad.”

Residents can learn more about the project by visiting the Harker Heights Fire Department’s Central Station 5:30 p.m. Wednesday.

Maps and visuals of the plans will be on display and officials will be available to answer questions.