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.