AUSTIN (KXAN) — The Texas A&M Forest Service is opening an airtanker base in Austin to help assist efforts to combat wildfires across the state.
The base, at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport, will open Saturday and will allow for faster response times and greater cost efficiency, according to the forest service.
“The airtanker’s speed is greater than that of a helicopter or single engine air tanker,” said George Martin, air operations branch director for the forest service. “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.”
According to TFS, fire activity is trending above normal this year, both in terms of the number of fires and acres burned. Since the start of the year, TFS has responded to 1,240 wildfires that have burned 497,373 acres.
Above-normal fire activity is expected to continue through the summer due to ongoing hot and dry conditions.
TFS uses aviation resources during periods of high fire activity to assist fire suppression efforts on the ground. The aircraft assist in protecting homes and critical infrastructure.
The Austin Airtanker Base will act as a reload station for aircraft responding to wildfires. AUS is the only airport in the state set up for a ‘Very Large Airtanker’ or DC-10 aircraft, according to TFS.
The base will be manned by TFS personnel, as well as those from the USDA Forest Service and the Austin Fire Department.
“Opening the Austin Airtanker Base will increase the amount of retardant we can deliver to wildfires across the state,” said Jared Karns, head of the Planning and Preparedness Department at TFS, “We will also be able to accommodate some of the largest suppression aircraft available. As hot and dry conditions continue this summer, the increased capability this base allows will greatly enhance our firefighting efforts.”
The forest service says 36 aircraft are mobilized at 18 airports across the state. Since Dec. 9, more than 6.8 million gallons of water and retardant have been dropped on fires across Texas.