This year’s fire activity is trending above normal, and Texas A&M Forest Service says that since January 1, it has responded to 1,240 wildfires that burned 497,373 acres across the state.
This 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 and have been positioned across Texas since December 9, 2021. Since then, suppression aircraft have flown 4,641 hours, dropping 6,820,642 gallons of water and retardant on wildfires, says Texas A&M Forest Service.
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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 says it 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, says the Texas A&M Forest Service. The base will be manned by trained and qualified Texas A&M Forest Service, USDA 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.