Air tanker base opens at Austin

Air Tankers 15 and 131 at Austin
Air Tankers 15 and 131 at Austin, August 18, 2019. Texas Forest Service photo.

Two large air tankers, T-131 and T-15, have been dispatched to the recently reopened Air Tanker Base at the Austin-Bergstrom International Airport to assist with increased wildfire activity across the state. The portable base was first established at Austin in 2017.

Significant fire activity has increased recently, particularly in northwest Texas, Central Texas and the Cross Timbers region where hot and dry conditions persist and fuel loading is high. Critical fuel dryness is expanding across South Texas, the Hill Country and Rolling Plains as rainfall deficits continue to build across large portions of the state.

During periods of high fire activity, aviation resources are used to support suppression efforts on the ground, aiding in the protection of structures and other valuable resources. “This year, we’ve utilized helicopters and single engine air tankers for wildfire response in areas with increased wildfire activity,” said Cynthia Foster, Texas A&M Forest Service Planning and Preparedness Department Head. “However, we could have a large, intense fire at any time so we want to be prepared and have additional aircraft ready to respond.”

Opening the airtanker base will allow for faster response times and greater cost efficiency when responding to wildfires across the state. “The airtanker’s speed is greater than that of a helicopter or single engine air tanker. These aircraft will be able to get anywhere in Texas in under one hour,” says George Martin, Air Operations Branch Director. “An airtanker can drop a line of retardant in front of a subdivision of homes, slowing the spread of the fire and allowing ground units time to respond.”

The base, equipped to handle all aircraft in the national airtanker fleet, will be staffed by trained and qualified Texas A&M Forest Service, U.S. Forest Service, and Austin Fire Department firefighting personnel.

Texas A&M Forest Service does not own any aviation resources but instead uses federal aviation contracts through the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management for all firefighting aircraft.


The article was edited to replace a file photo of an air tanker with one taken at Austin August 18, 2019.

Firefighter killed in Texas helicopter crash

(UPDATED at 2:16 p.m. MDT March 28, 2019)

 

The firefighter that died in the Texas helicopter crash on March 27 has been identified by the U.S. Forest Service as Daniel Laird, a Captain on the Tahoe Helitack crew in California. He leaves behind a wife and young daughter.

One source tells us that the other passenger was also a USFS firefighter who was sitting in the front seat when the aircraft went down, but reportedly walked away and was treated and released from a hospital.

Daniel_J_Laird
Daniel J. Laird. Tahoe National Forest photo.

The pilot was also transported to a hospital in stable condition, according to the information reported yesterday by Sergeant Erik Burse with the Texas Department of Public Safety.

Below is a letter from the USFS Regional Forester in California:

“You may have already heard from Secretary Perdue and Chief Christiansen that we lost one of our own, Daniel Laird, yesterday, in a helicopter accident while conducting a prescribed burn with our Region 8 partners on the Sam Houston National Forest in Texas. Daniel was 41 years old and leaves behind his wife Heather and daughter Evain.

“Daniel started as a seasonal firefighter on the Tahoe [National Forest] and worked his way up to Helitack Captain. His passion was in aviation, but he was also known for his ability to lead a strike team of engines or a task force of hand crews and heavy equipment. He was a true leader in every sense. He was dedicated to being an instructor and a believer in the apprentice program, where he helped grow people just like himself. Daniel was originally from Graeagle, CA, and committed his working life to the Forest Service. He was extremely knowledgeable about his craft and loved his job. He had an infectious smile, natural physical talent, and his greatest love of all was his family.

“Our Forest Service family is hurting over this tremendous loss. It is an emotional time and Daniel’s loss can impact even the strongest among us. We grieve with Daniel’s immediate family, friends, and community. Please keep them all in your thoughts and prayers. The Region is providing support to the Tahoe and all who need it as they digest this sad news. I will pass more details on arrangements once they become available.

“Please continue to look out for one another and take care of one another.”

Randy Moore
Regional Forester
USFS R5


(UPDATED at 9:07 a.m. CDT March 28, 2019)

The deceased firefighter was a U.S. Forest Service employee who, along with the other firefighter and the pilot, were on an aerial ignition mission. Their equipment was dropping plastic spheres that burst into flame after hitting the ground, helping to ignite the prescribed fire. No names have been released.


(Originally published at 7:17 p.m. CDT March 27, 2019)

One firefighter was killed in the crash of a helicopter today while working on a prescribed fire in the Sam Houston National Forest about 30 miles southeast of College Station, Texas south of Highway 149.

Sergeant Erik Burse with the Texas Department of Public Safety said the Eurocopter AS350 went down at about 2 p.m. with three people on board, a pilot and two firefighters. One of the firefighters was deceased on scene. The pilot and a second firefighter were transported to a hospital in stable condition after rescuers extracted them from the wreckage using jaws and air bags.

map helicopter crash sam houston national forest
Map showing heat in the Sam Houston National Forest detected by a satellite at 2:38 p.m. CDT March 27, 2019. There is a possibility the heat could have been produced by a prescribed fire.

Our sincere condolences go out to the family, friends, and coworkers of the firefighter, and we hope for a speedy recovery of the injured personnel.

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Perry. Typos or errors, report them HERE.

Videos of firefighting aircraft in action

air tanker 137 737 wildfire
This is not a video, but it is a screengrab from the video below of Air Tanker 137, a 737, dropping on the Bruxner Highway Fire (Tenterfield LGA) in New South Wales, Australia. Usually it is not obvious when an air tanker drops simultaneously from more than one tank, but on the 737 the tanks are not adjacent to each other, making it possible to see the separation when the drop begins.

The video below shows Air Tanker 137, a Boeing 737, dropping on the Bruxner Highway Fire (Tenterfield LGA) in New South Wales, Australia.

A Blackhawk and an Air-Crane can be seen in the video below working on a wildfire in New South Wales, Australia.

Next, a Blackhawk in New South Wales.

Below, two helicopters work a fire north of Canadian, Texas.

Below, CAL FIRE helicopter 301 makes a swift water rescue.

Video from Tanker 580 in Texas

This video was probably shot February 28 from Single Engine Air Tanker 580 while it was working on the Prison Fire in Texas. If you don’t want to watch all eight minutes, check out what appears to be a drop run at 2:40. Be sure your seat belt is fastened! And, put it in full screen mode.

I’m thinking the pilot has experience flying crop dusters.

Air tanker base to be established at Austin, Texas

The base will be formally unveiled February 16, 2017.

tanker 42 at Rapid City

Above: Air Tanker 43, a P2V, at the permanent (not portable) Rapid City Air Tanker Base, July 21, 2017 during the Myrtle Fire.

A new portable air tanker base is being established at the Austin-Bergstrom International Airport in Texas. The funds for the equipment were provided by the Texas Legislature through the Texas Wildfire Protection Plan.

This is the second portable base in Texas capable of refilling air tankers with long term fire retardant. The other is based in Abilene.

“This tanker base represents a monumental advancement in wildfire preparedness for our area,” said state Rep. John Cyrier, whose Central Texas district includes communities affected by the 2015 Hidden Pines Fire and the 2011 Bastrop Complex of Fires. Together, these fires burned 39,000 acres and destroyed more than 1700 homes.

The equipment will have the capacity to refill large air tankers which typically hold between 2,000 and 4,000 gallons. Bob Griffin of Representative Cyrier’s office could not say for sure if it could refill Very Large Air Tankers such as the 11,600-gallon DC-10 or the 19,200-gallon 747.

An agreement between the Texas A&M Forest Service, Austin Fire Department, and the Austin airport will make onsite real estate and tarmac space available at the airport for staging and operations as well as onsite quarters for flight crews, according to a press release.

Firefighters from the Austin Fire Department and surrounding areas will be trained on the operation of the equipment. The presence of the tanker base, together with local trained emergency personnel, will increase the speed with which air tankers can be mobilized to fight wildfires in central Texas. The equipment is portable and can be moved to fight wildfires in other parts of the state.

Helicopter assisting firefighters on the Powerline Fire in Texas

Powerline Fire helicopter

The Powerline Fire in Big Bend National Park in south Texas has burned about 1,790 acres as of 5 p.m. CST on Thursday. A Type 3 helicopter and the park’s fixed wing aircraft are assisting firefighters. A downed powerline during gusty, hot winds ignited the fire on Monday, February 1.

More information is at Wildfire Today.

The photos above were supplied by the National Park Service.

Video of National Guard helicopters fighting fire near Bastrop, Texas

The above video shows Blackhawk and Chinook helicopters from the Texas Army National Guard dropping water on a fire near Bastrop, Texas, October 15, 2015. (U.S. Army National Guard video by Mr. John Thibodeau).

The video below also shows National Guard helicopters working a fire near Bastrop, Texas, but it was shot September 6, 2011.