New LTFR chipper helps reduce wildfire risk

The Lake Travis Fire and Rescue fuels reduction crew feeds brush into its new chipper, which keep areas safer from wildfire risks. It’s the only remote-controlled, self-propelled chipper in Texas.

Four Points News

A state-of-art remote-controlled chipper cuts down on both brush and time for crews working to minimize natural wildfire fuel in local woodlands, said William Boettner, Lake Travis Fire and Rescue wildfire mitigation specialist.

The heavy equipment, which LTFR has had for nearly six months, is the only one of its kind in Texas.

“There’s one in Oklahoma and one here. It cost about $100,000,” Boettner said.

The expenditure may be balanced by at least a 50 percent increase in the fuels reduction crew productivity.

“A job that used to take us five days now takes two or three. We can finish much more rapidly, which means we can do more work and create more safe zones,” said Boettner.

The LTFR crews have been working in Steiner Ranch for the last couple of weeks and plan to do more in the future. They work within the rules governing the bird habitat and oak wilt seasons, he said.

In addition to a remote control, which allows the operator to stand at a distance and see people and activity around the chipper, the machine is self-propelled and runs on tracks, not wheels, similar to a tank. Even at 1,200 pounds, it can go just about anywhere the crew goes. “It can take on a decent slope,” Boettner added.

This means workers don’t have to drag limbs and brush through the forest and across rough terrain to a chipper parked on the nearest road. They feed brush in at the clearing site, and the chipper spits out mulch.

“The mulch spreads out very nicely and improves soil quality,” Boettner said.

Mulch dries out in Central Texas heat, though, and can be another potential fire hazard.

But Boettner said, “A ground fire is much more easily suppressed than one in the treetops.

“You can’t eliminate fire completely, but you make it less severe by creating a defensible space. The goal is to reduce the chance of fire. The chipper is a pretty aggressive tool for fire reduction,” he said.

LTFR is even reaching out to nearby municipalities and fire departments offering them access to the chipper.

“It’s a great piece of equipment. We’d love a couple more,” Boettner said.

LTFR and Steiner Ranch residents have had experience with destructive wildfires. In 2011, more than 20 Steiner homes were destroyed and about 30 others were damaged by a wildfire.