Austin Airtanker Base opens to assist with increased wildfire activity

The Austin Airtanker Base is now open at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport (AUS) to help with increased wildfire activity. On Monday, firefighters on the ground and in the air were busy across the state.

Officials said the possibility of fire activity is extremely high with these hot temperatures and dry conditions, and opening the Airtanker allows for a faster response time.

Since Jan. 1, 2022, Texas A&M Forest Service has responded to more than 1,200 wildfires across the state and expect more throughout the summer.

On Monday, a fire about 100 acres was in Smithville.

"They were welding a fence and the welding caught the grass on fire that then kind of ran the field," Texas A&M Forest Service Public Information Officer Kimberly Kaschalk said.

There was another fire about 300 acres at Possum Kingdom Lake, one in Somervell County and a 850 acre fire at Nelson Creek in Walker County.

Ground and aerial efforts were used.

"No matter how fast a person goes, a plane can get in front of it so much safer and so much faster so planes are one of our big, heavy resources, without planes, we have such a harder time," Kaschalk said.

The Austin Airtanker Base is unique, it’s equipped to handle all aircraft in the national airtanker fleet, and it’s centrally located, saving time and resources.

"It's opened primarily as a reload base so aircraft from the other airports that are traveling across the state can stop there, reload, refuel, and then get back to their fire," Texas A&M Forest Service Public Information Officer Erin O’Connor said.

The Texas A&M Forest Service said 90% of wildfires are caused by people and are preventable.

"Anything you can do to prevent a fire in the first place is going to make things so much better for our people because then if we get heaven forbid something like a lightning strike that is not preventable, then our people will be fresh and ready to go," Kaschalk said.

So, be aware of your activity during the summer months.

"Please be very careful, be mindful of your fuels, have a water source with you just in case heaven forbid something were to happen," Kaschalk said.

Since Friday, Texas A&M Forest Services has responded to more than 40 wildfires across the state.