July 15, 2022
AUSTIN, Texas—Texas A&M Forest Service is opening the Austin Airtanker Base at the Austin-Bergstrom International Airport to assist with increased wildfire activity across the state Saturday, July 15.
This year’s fire activity is trending above normal for the number of fire responses and acres burned. Since January 1, 2022, Texas A&M Forest Service has responded to 1,240 wildfires that burned 497,373 acres across the state.
Above normal fire activity is expected to continue through the summer, as hot temperatures and dry conditions are forecast to persist for much of the state.
During periods of high fire activity, aviation resources are used to augment suppression efforts on the ground.
“This year, we have utilized aviation resources for response in areas experiencing significant wildfire activity,” said Jared Karns, Texas A&M Forest Service Planning and Preparedness Department Head. “These aircraft provide support to ground crews and assist in protecting homes as well as other critical infrastructure.”
Aviation resources have been positioned across Texas since December 9, 2021, when wildfire activity started to increase. Since then, suppression aircraft have flown 4,641 hours, dropping 6,820,642 gallons of water and retardant on Texas wildfires.
Opening the airtanker base will allow for faster response times and greater cost efficiency when responding to wildfires in Texas.
“The airtanker’s speed is greater than that of a helicopter or single engine air tanker,” said George Martin, Texas A&M Forest Service Air Operations Branch Director. “These aircraft will be able to get anywhere in Texas in under one hour. Suppression aircraft can respond quickly, increasing the likelihood that a new ignition remains a small, manageable wildfire.”
Texas A&M Forest Service has 36 aircraft mobilized at 17 airports around the state for wildfire response. The Austin Airtanker Base will serve as a reload station for aircraft coming and going to wildfires and is the only airport in the state setup for a Very Large Airtanker, or DC-10.
The base is equipped to handle all aircraft in the national airtanker fleet, including those aircraft used to drop fire retardant during wildfires. The base will be manned by trained and qualified Texas A&M Forest Service, USDA Forest Service and Austin Fire Department firefighting personnel.
“Opening the Austin Airtanker Base will increase the amount of retardant we can deliver to wildfires across the state,” said Karns. “We will also be able to accommodate some of the largest suppression aircraft available. As hot and dry conditions continue this summer, the increased capability this base allows will greatly enhance our firefighting efforts.”
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.