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Texas parks department adopts new prescribed burn standards after Bastrop State Park wildfire

Tree canopy as seen looking from the ground
Prescribed burns are intended to help remove flammable vegetative growth to prevent uncontrollable wildfires.

In January, a prescribed burn at the park got out of control, conjuring memories of the Bastrop County Complex fire in 2011. Now, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department says it agrees with all recommendations issued by an independent panel reviewing the incident.

The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department will adopt new protocols for prescribed burns based on an independent review of a fire that escaped its intended boundaries at Bastrop State Park earlier this year.

A five-member team of wildland fire experts analyzed actions TPWD staff took before and after the Rolling Pines Wildfire that burned 812 acres from Jan. 18 to Jan. 24 and prompted evacuations in nearby communities.

The review released Saturday concluded park officials did not have an adequate number of firefighters on site to manage two prescribed burn areas that were ignited at the same time.

“That led to a long firing line. It stretched our resources a little bit too thin and so that impacted our ability to react to some of the spotting that occurred" said Texas State Parks Division Director Rodney Franklin.

He added that future prescribed burns at the park will require a minimum number of firefighters and at least two bulldozers ready on site.

"We had one that was scheduled but we really started the fire before that 'dozer got on site. It was en route but not quite on site. We did that to take advantage of the best weather conditions," he said.

The review panel also recommended conducting smaller burns at the park, even if that means burning on more days of the year.

On the day of the prescribed burn at Bastrop State Park, the Texas A&M Forest Service had issued alerts about a heightened potential for wildfires across much of North and West Texas due to above average temperatures and dry, windy conditions. However, at the time, Bastrop County was not included in warning areas.

“We have read the report carefully, discussed it extensively and already begun to weave its recommendations into our processes. We can and will do better,” said TPWD Executive Director Carter Smith in a news release.

Prescribed burns are intended to help remove flammable vegetative growth to prevent uncontrollable wildfires such as the 32,000 acre Bastrop County Complex fire that destroyed more than 1,600 homes and killed two people in 2011. It was the most destructive wildfire in state history.

Joseph Leahy anchors morning newscasts for NPR's statewide public radio collaborative, Texas Newsroom. He began his career in broadcast journalism as a reporter for St. Louis Public Radio in 2011. The following year, he helped launch Delaware's first NPR station, WDDE, as an afternoon newscaster and host. Leahy returned to St. Louis in 2013 to anchor local newscasts during All Things Considered and produce news on local and regional issues. In 2016, he took on a similar role as the local Morning Edition newscaster at KUT in Austin, before moving over to the Texas Newsroom.