Independent Panel to Examine Rolling Pines Wildfire

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AUSTIN— At today’s meeting of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) announced the selection of an independent panel to review the circumstances and cause of last week’s escape of a prescribed fire at Bastrop State Park.

The panel was ordered through Texas A&M Forest Service (TAMFS) and consists of experts from across the southern United States knowledgeable about prescribed burns on both public and private land. These specialists have expertise in how fire reacts in environments similar to Bastrop State Park.

 A five-member team of wildland fire experts from the state forestry agencies in Florida, Georgia, Oklahoma and South Carolina comprise the review team with specific qualifications and experience spanning that of Incident Commander Type 2, Operations Chief Type 2, Safety Officer Type 1, Firing Boss and Task Force Leader.

The team members will come from the Southern United States where they have experience with similar ecosystems, fuel types, fire culture, land use, land ownership, prescribed fire programs and wildland fire response.

“Our role in this review is helping acquire the review team,” said Wes Moorehead, Fire Chief for Texas A&M Forest Service. “Through an interagency ordering system, Texas A&M Forest Service has the ability to bring in resources from states with similar burn programs for such reviews. While our agency is not part of the actual review team, we are glad to help TPWD by facilitating the ordering process.”

 Some of the objectives of this review will include:

  • Review the preparation, planning and execution of the prescribed fire
  • Evaluate staff, equipment and safety resources
  • Determine whether the burn plan conformed to best practices related to prescribed fire
  • Develop and issue recommendations to TPWD

Prescribed burns at Bastrop and Buescher State Parks have temporarily been suspended until the independent review is complete and the results and recommendations have been fully evaluated.

“We fully support this independent review and will continue working every day to earn the public’s trust for the continued safe and effective use of prescribed fire,” said Carter Smith, Executive Director of TPWD. “Prescribed burns are a carefully calculated risk but are essential in managing many of our habitats, landscapes and private and public lands across Texas, including the iconic Lost Pines Forest at Bastrop. We are committed to using the highest safety and operational standards with our prescribed burn program and look forward to a thorough evaluation of not only the events that unfolded with the planning and execution of the prescribed fire, but our response upon recognition the fire had escaped. Ultimately, any and all lessons learned from the review will help make our fire program better and safer.”

Historically, wildland fire is a natural element of both grassland and forest ecology that helps regulate flora and fauna across the state. A lack of naturally occurring fire over the last century has led to an imbalance in fire-adapted plant and animal communities and an increase in extreme wildfires. Prescribed burns play a key role in reclaiming and restoring fire-adapted ecosystems while also reducing the risk of extreme wildfires.

As a land management tool, prescribed fires are important and help minimize the threat and severity of major wildfires by reducing the amount of existing and dormant vegetation. If left unchecked, the excess of leaves and plants would fuel a minor situation into a major wildfire.