Air support is key to controlling wildfire

GIDDINGS, Texas— The Giddings Airport has been crucial in an effort to control the Hidden Pine Fire. The aircraft staging area houses four engine tankers, which made 64 drops Thursday.  

Air support is key to getting the wildfire under control. The pilots will once again take flight Friday morning, as they join a stellar fleet. The DC–10, the nation’s largest firefighting aircraft, will fly in to help.

One after the other, single engine air tankers, or SEATs, touch down at the Giddings Airport, fill up with water or retardant, and head back out to the fire in Smithville.

The specially trained pilots respond to fires across the country. Their planes are modified crop dusters. Joining them will be two Blackhawk helicopters, two Chinooks, and two tankers— which can hold up to 4,000 gallons.

The DC-10, the largest firefighting aircraft in the country, will also join the fight. This is not the aircraft’s first time around in Texas. The aircraft was brought to Central Texas to battle the Bastrop fire in 2011.

Chris Postiglione, Star Flight Crew Chief, was in the air Tuesday and Wednesday. During that time, the fire doubled in size.

"When we were out there, you would pray for the wind to shift the other way, below the fire, back into the area that was already burned and have it self-extinguish, but that isn't happening," Chief Postiglione said.

Chief Postiglione captured video from the Huey chopper on Tuesday— the trees he then saw have since burned.

"From the time we would dip and circle back into the pattern and dump, it's probably about two-and-a-half minutes. During that time we would see significant progress, especially when the fire hit some of the drier cedars,” Postiglione said. “They would immediately ignite. So you would see significant progression in that two-and-a-half minutes, in the time we refilled our tank ‘till we got to whatever property burned."

Postiglione says the scale of emergency has now surpassed the capabilities of the Star Flight helicopters, saying "really [them] dumping 350 gallons at a time on the fire that large is not going to make a significant dent."

Still, the crews have all of their equipment packed and ready to go.

A look at what air response is capable of:

  • DC-10 aircrafts can carry 12,000 gallons
  • Big tankers, or MD-87, transport 3-4,000 gallons
  • Chinooks can carry 2,000 gallons
  • SEAT, or single engine air tankers, 750 gallons
  • Blackhawks transport 660 gallons

The DC-10 is flying in from the West coast, and it is expected to be in Smithville Friday morning.