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April 21, 2009--WALKER COUNTY, Texas--It was dark, but timber farmer John Swonke still could see the glow of the wildfire as he drove up to his 201 acres of timber and pasture land in the far west end of the county.

With just one fire break on his property and pine needles that blanketed the clearing around his cabin, Swonke had no idea what he would find when the sun rose the following day.

The former president of Walker County Timber Growers Association expected the worst. He figured he’d lost everything.

“When I got out there and I could see a lot of trees hadn’t been damaged, I was so relieved. I just knew it was all gone. I expected to pull up and see nothing but burned stumps,” he said of the June 2007 fire that burned less than two acres before being extinguished by volunteer firefighters and Texas Forest Service.

“It’s a strange feeling to hear you’ve got a fire at your place and have no idea how bad. This taught us a cheap lesson…. We learned something. We need to do something.”

With wildfires continuing to ravage parts of the state, Swonke is hoping to learn how to better protect his property this weekend at Texas Forest Expo 2009, April 24 to 26 at Lone Star Convention Center in Conroe.

Five wildfire prevention classes will be offered this weekend at Texas Forest Expo:

  • How to Become a Firewise Community: 2 to 3:30 p.m. Saturday
  • Better Plants for Firewise Landscapes: 1 to 1:45 p.m. Saturday and Sunday
  • Family Fire Safety & Prevention: 3:45 to 4:30 p.m. Saturday and 2 to 2:45 p.m. Sunday
  • Safe Burning Practices: 3 to 3:45 p.m. Sunday
  • Avoid a Second Strike from Hurricane Ike: 9 to 9:45 a.m. and 3:45 to 4:30 p.m. Saturday and 1 to 1:45 p.m. Sunday

Justice Jones, prevention and mitigation coordinator for Texas Forest Service said the classes will help landowners learn how to create a “defensible space” around their homes, as well as what to do once a wildfire occurs. The classes also will detail grant opportunities for communities interested in protecting themselves.

“I think the big-picture message is that anybody in Texas is susceptible to wildfires. The majority of our fires occur within two miles of a community,” Jones said, urging people to attend the classes. “There is no longer a safe area. We’re getting fires now in what are traditionally urban areas.”

Texas Forest Expo is designed for all landowners — whether they have just one tree in their back yard or thousands. In addition to wildfire prevention, the expo offers free classes in land management and lawn and garden maintenance, as well live demonstrations, more than 60 information booths and an indoor forest maze for the kids.

For more information about Texas Forest Expo, go online to http://texasforestexpo.tamu.edu. There you can find detailed information about the expo, as well as a class schedule and directions to the event. Also available: an eight-page informational magazine and pre-recorded public service announcements in English and Spanish.

Texas Forest Service contacts:
Justice Jones, Prevention and Mitigation Coordinator
936-273-2261 office, 936-546-8042 cell

John Warner, District Forester
936-273-2261 office, 936-546-3169 cell

Holly Huffman, Communications Specialist
979-458-6605 office, 979-324-0708 cell


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