Spring came early in Central Texas and so could summer and that means getting ready for wildfire season. Travis County emergency responders gave an up close look at how STAR Flight helicopters play a critical role in fighting wildland fires.
STAR flight 4 is a fairly new chopper that helps with search and rescues but is designed specifically to help fight fires. Willy Culberson is a STAR Flight Pilot who operates STAR Flight 4 with Scott White as the crew chief.
The pair has been flying together for eight years now and they play a very critical role in helping fight wildland fires. One of their most intense missions they said was back in 2011 during the Steiner Ranch Fires in Southwest Austin.
“It was the first time we ever dropped water at night. Normally it's not something to do. They needed that much help.” Dozens of homes were lost, many more were severely damaged. “Usually you have one house on fire, but then intensify that by basically a neighborhood block. It was intense,” White said.
Will Boettner is a Wildfire Mitigation Specialist for Lake Travis Fire and Rescue; he said after the Steiner Ranch fire they saw the need to have the ability to drop more water from helicopters.
STAR Flight 4 was added to the fleet a few years ago.
“The great thing about the helicopters is they can grab water, they can fly over a particular hotspot they can drop water on that and give us some breathing room and give us the ability to catch that fire and stop it from moving forward.” He said as they are doing their part to get ready for wildfire season, homeowners need to as well. “When these things are going, they are so big, that we can't get every single house individually, it's very important for citizens to protect their own homes, their own families, and their own safety and help us out,” he said. Boettner is part of a team involved in a new “Home Ignition Assessment” program where firefighters will come to your home to show you how to protect it. “I stand with my back toward the house and I work my way toward the woodland and identify all the places where a risk may occur and I talk to the homeowners what they can do as homeowners.”