AUSTIN (KXAN) - You've likely noticed it's greener outside because of recent rains, but the Austin Fire Department is already preparing for when the rain ends. They're working with a combination of new tools, new techniques and more training to stay ahead of wildfires.
The winter wildfire season starts in January and worsens when the rains end, temperatures warm and the winds pick up.
"The best fire is one we don't ever have," said Casey Ping, STARFlight program coordinator. "In the end, we still have to be prepared to respond to it, and that's what this is all about, is us working together and being better prepared."
STAR Flight and AFD participated in a fire fighting simulation Thursday. They practiced with tools like the 4,800 gallon "pumpkin." It's a portable water source fire trucks fill up and STARFlight can draw from with a Bambi bucket.
"Last year during the drought we were having a hard time finding water sources," said Ping. "We were having to fly quite a ways for water. The ranchers and farmers didn't like us taking water out of their tanks because they were trying to keep their livestock watered."
There's also a new firefighting truck provided by the state, based in Austin, and Travis County is taking bids for a new helicopter. The Huey-type helicopter will be able to carry three times as much as water as their current models do. They're expecting it to arrive within six months.
"The air assets are critical to us, especially on faster-moving grass fires or obviously large incidents," said AFD Capt. Randy Denzer. "The big problem is they can't do their job without us on the ground directing what we need from them, and sometimes there's a point where we can't do our job unless they're there also."
To do it well, everyone needs to communicate effectively and the efforts aren't just local. The new practices stretch statewide so everyone's on the same page.
"I can show up anywhere in the state right now and communicate with the resources there whether I've been there, or know them or not," said Denzer.
AFD also says prevention is still key to controlling wildfires.
Read more information on wildfire preparedness.
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