Austin: The State Capital’s Fight Against Wildfire


Austin, Texas, the state’s capital city, is located in Travis County in central Texas. Home to over 960,000 people, Austin is known for its rolling terrain and vast outdoor recreation. In 2013, Austin was ranked the city with the third greatest risk of wildfire-related structure losses, specifically for communities outside the urban core. These areas, known as the wildland-urban interface, are in the transition zone between undeveloped rural wildlands and developed areas and account for 61% of households in Austin and 64% of the land within Austin city limits.


In 2011, due to a severe drought, Texas experienced over 31,000 wildfires that burned 4 million acres and destroyed almost 3,000 homes. The City of Austin was particularly hard hit. Austin responded to the wildfire risk by seeking recommendations for tighter wildfire protection standards for the structures. Additionally, they initiated the development of a Wildland-Urban Interface (WUI) Code based on the 2015 ICC International WUI Code. In 2019, the city received a report from the city auditor acknowledging that Austin was adequately prepared to respond to the event of a wildfire but that more was needed to mitigate and reduce the risk from wildfires, especially in the WUI. In June 2019, the Austin Public Safety Commission recommended tighter wildfire protection requirements and endorsed the official adoption of a WUI Code. The City Council unanimously adopted the WUI Code on April 9, 2020.

The WUI code requires that all new homes and businesses constructed near wildland areas be built with special ignition-resistant construction materials to protect structures from being set ablaze during a wildfire. Special consideration must be given to buildings near hillsides, areas with limited water supply, and areas of heavy vegetation since perimeter brush and tree clearing is a code requirement. Properties will also be subject to the new standards for any portions undergoing renovation.

Austin Fire Chief Joel G. Baker said, “The development and vetting of the code was a years-long effort; its passage goes hand in hand with our vegetation management plan and fuel mitigation strategies and, among other things, requires all new construction projects in the WUI area to now include fire-resistant construction features. All these tools working together will help ensure neighboring communities that wildland areas are ready for and protected from the next wildfire. Because it's not a matter of if, but when.”

Austin has now become the largest city outside of California to adopt a WUI Code.

Key Takeaways

  1. Be proactive. Without proactive action, especially in the case of wildfires, the risk of damage and loss of property and life can significantly increase.
  2. Response to wildfire risk is key. Austin is the first major city to implement codes specifically for wildfires. The city went from being unprepared against its level of potential threat to being the first of its kind to have adopted WUI codes.
  3. WUI Code Implementation: In response to severe wildfires, Austin developed and adopted a Wildland-Urban Interface Code in 2020, requiring new constructions to use ignition-resistant materials and adhere to specific building standards to mitigate wildfire risks. After all, investing in a WUI code has an average overall hazard-benefit-cost ratio of 4:1 (National Institute of Building Science). These codes ensure better protection against wildfires.   
Last updated