Austin-Bergstrom International Airport is now host to the first state-funded portable airtanker base in Central Texas, which will help combat wildfires in the future.
The Austin Airtanker Base comes out of the Texas A&M Forest Service Texas Wildfire Protection Plan, which was approved by state lawmakers in the 2013 legislative session. The base is capable of preparing large air tankers to drop fire retardant during wildfire events in Central Texas and the surrounding areas. That plan also provided the state with more firefighters and more equipment.
Texas A&M University System Chancellor John Sharp said that by following the plan, Texas saved around $20 million during the last wildfire season by positioning resources near fire-prone area.
“We hope firefighters from the Texas A&M Forest Service and other agencies won’t be needed to battle dangerous blazes,” Sharp said. “But if they are called upon, they will be ready with the tools they need to save lives and property.”
The base will allow for faster set up and mobilization of aviation resources, especially along the I-35 corridor. The Texas A&M Forest Service said “the base will be manned by trained and qualified Texas A&M Forest Service, Austin Fire Department and USDA Forest Service firefighting personnel” during times of high fire danger.
“The establishment of this tanker base is an historic moment in our collective task to protect Texans,” said Tom Boggus, Director of Texas A&M Forest Service. “We know that we are stronger together — and in a state this size, it takes us all.”
State Rep. John Cyrier (R-Lockhart) flew aerial observation during the 2011 Bastrop Complex fire and worked with organizations to make the base a reality.
“I am grateful for the countless hours of hard work by the citizens committee and all those who worked to make this air tanker base a reality. We are better prepared today than ever before to manage wildfire emergencies and protect the lives and property of our families and communities,” Cyrier said in a release.
The city said the base is located at the east end of the cargo area of the airport.
“The airport community has over 4,000 employees and a significant number were personally affected by the fires in 2011,” said Patti Edwards, Chief Operating Officer with Austin-Bergstrom International Airport. “It took creative planning with the teams from the forest service, our airport airside operations, security, environmental, planning, properties, and Austin Fire and rescue groups to develop a plan to allow both commercial operations to continue and support a tanker base operation when an event occurs.”