Austin Airtanker Base opens to assist with wildfire activity across Texas

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The base at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport will accept aircraft coming and going from wildfires all over the state.

AUSTIN, Texas — As dry conditions continue to raise the risk to wildfires across the state, the Texas A&M Forest Service on Friday announced that it is opening the Austin Airtanker Base at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport to insist with fire activity in Texas.

Officials say this year’s activity is trending above normal. Since Jan. 1, the service has responded to 1,240 wildfires that have torn through 497,373 acres across across the state. And this activity is expected to trend above normal through the summer.

“This year, we have utilized aviation resources for response in areas experiencing significant wildfire activity,” said Jared Karns, Texas A&M Forest Service planning and preparedness department head. “These aircraft provide support to ground crews and assist in protecting homes as well as other critical infrastructure.”

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

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

“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.”

The forest service currently has 36 aircraft mobilized at 17 airports in Texas. The Austin station will serve as a reload station for aircraft responding to fires around the state. It is the only airport that can accept a very large airtanker, such as the DC-10. It is also equipped to handle all aircraft in the national airtanker fleet, including those aircraft used to drop fire retardants.

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

“Opening the Austin Airtanker Base will increase the amount of retardant we can deliver to wildfires across the state,” said Karns. “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 itself does not own any aviation resources. 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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