Austin Airtanker Base opens to assist with wildfire activity across Texas

A fireworks display at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport greets arriving aircraft.

AUSTIN, Texas – As dry conditions continue to increase the risk of wildfires in the state, the Texas A&M Forest Service announced on Friday that it will open the Austin Air Terminal at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport to help prevent wildfires in Texas.

Officials said this year’s activity is above normal. Since Jan. 1, the service has responded to 1,240 wildfires on 497,373 acres across the state. This activity is expected to be above normal during the summer.

“This year, we used aviation resources to respond to areas with high wildfire activity,” said Jared Carnes, chief of planning and preparedness for the Texas A&M Forest Service. “These aircraft provide support to ground crews and help protect homes and other critical infrastructure.”

Air resources have been deployed around Texas since Dec. 9 when wildfire activity began to increase. Since then, suppression aircraft have flown 4,641 hours, dropping 6,820,642 gallons of water and fighting wildfires.

Opening the Austin base will allow for faster response times and greater cost efficiency when responding to the state’s wildfires.

“The speed of an airlifter is much faster than a helicopter or a single-engine air tanker,” said George Martin, director of the air operations branch of the Texas A&M Forest Service. “These aircraft can reach anywhere in Texas within an hour. Suppression aircraft can respond quickly, increasing the likelihood that new ignitions will be small and manageable wildfires.”

The Forest Service currently operates 36 aircraft at 17 airports in Texas. The Austin station serves as a reloading station for aircraft responding to wildfires around the state. It is the only airport capable of receiving a very large air cargo such as the DC-10. It is also equipped to accommodate all aircraft in the national air cargo fleet, including aircraft used to drop fire fighters.

This base is staffed by trained and qualified members of the Texas A&M Forest Service, the USDA Forest Service and the Austin Fire Department.

“Opening the Austin air tanker base will increase the amount of delay we can deliver to wildfires across the state,” Carnes said. “We can also accommodate some of the largest suppression aircraft available. As hot and dry conditions continue this summer, the increased capacity this base will allow will greatly enhance our firefighting efforts.”

The Forest Service itself does not own aviation assets. Instead, it uses federal aviation contracts through the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management for all firefighting aircraft.

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