Bastrop

Austin American-Statesman - - COMMUNITY NEWS - Con­tact Mary Hu­ber at 512-321-2557. Twit­ter: @marymhu­ber

Ac­cord­ing to state Rep. John Cyrier, R-Lock­hart, of­fi­cials had to rely on smaller air­craft to fight the fire while wait­ing on re­sources from as far away as Ten­nessee, New Mex­ico and Ari­zona, di­min­ish­ing re­sponse time and ca­pa­bil­ity.

This year, of­fi­cials un­veiled a new mo­bile air tanker base at Austin-Bergstrom In­ter­na­tional Air­port ca­pa­ble of stag­ing large Type 1 planes and DC-10 air­craft that can carry up to 12,000 gal­lons of fire re­tar­dant. It is one of only a hand­ful of bases of its kind in the coun­try. The lo­ca­tion is kept with ma­te­ri­als and per­son­nel in case of a wild­fire, Truitt said, but no air tankers are sta­tioned there. The clos­est ones are po­si­tioned in Cal­i­for­nia and Ne­vada, he said.

Ad­di­tion­ally, there are only two sin­gle-en­gine air tankers in the state, at a base in Abi­lene, and one he­li­copter sta­tioned in Gid­dings, Truitt said. In Bastrop County, there are six avail­able bull­doz­ers, which are used to carve out fire­breaks to stop the spread of wild­fire, Of­fice of Emer­gency Man­age­ment As­sis­tant Di­rec­tor James Gabriel said.

He said the county is work­ing out agree­ments with the Army Na­tional Guard and Camp Swift for more re­sources.

Jim Boyle, who led the in­de­pen­dent res­i­dent study of the Hid­den Pines Fire, said it wasn’t enough.

“We are con­cerned about the air­craft and bull­doz­ers,” he said. “We want to make sure they are all ready to go. It would be a hor­ri­ble sit­u­a­tion if we have to have sev­eral fires for them to move the planes in. That’s not ac­cept­able.”

But County Judge Paul Pape said there is a very lim­ited num­ber of large tankers avail­able — only 20 DC-10 air­craft na­tion­wide.

“If there are no for­est fires or wild­fires, we might be able to get one de­liv­ered to Austin on standby,” he said. “But if they are ac­tively fight­ing fires out west, then they can’t very well be sit­ting on the ground right here. It’s a mat­ter of balancing the re­sources. We would all love to have the re­sources close at hand and ded­i­cated to our use, but that’s not go­ing to hap­pen. It’s not prac­ti­cal.”

A plan to build a sin­gle-en­gine air tanker base at the Smithville air­port that would have brought more as­sets to Bastrop County failed to re­ceive Fed­eral Emer­gency Man­age­ment fund­ing in May.

Cur­rently, Pape said, emer­gency man­age­ment of­fi­cials are fo­cus­ing on dis­as­ter pre­pared­ness by train­ing staffers in in­ci­dent com­mand.

With $4 mil­lion from the state and FEMA, the county has been able to mit­i­gate nearly 1,600 acres of pri­vate and pub­lic land by cut­ting tree limbs and clear­ing un­der­brush, elim­i­nat­ing trees such as eastern red cedars that spread fires, said Kate John­ston, the pro­gram’s man­ager.

Work be­gan in Tahi­tian Vil­lage in 2015, in the area from Texas 71 to River­side Drive. Now, crews have moved to the north­ern part of the county, just out­side the burn scar of the Com­plex Fire, around FM 1441 and Blue­bon­net Drive.

Res­i­dents also have been urged to reg­is­ter with WARN Cen­tral Texas to get up­dates on emer­gency in­ci­dents in Bastrop County and to mon­i­tor so­cial me­dia for im­por­tant dis­as­ter in­for­ma­tion.

Any­one work­ing out­side is cau­tioned to be care­ful amid the high tem­per­a­tures, since a num­ber of farm­ing ac­tiv­i­ties can ig­nite sparks that quickly spread fire.

“In the last cou­ple years, we’ve seen fires started from farm­ing ac­ci­dents, weld­ing ac­ci­dents,” Pape said. “Just be­cause those ac­tiv­i­ties might be ex­empt from a burn ban, it might not be ap­pro­pri­ate to be en­gaged in them while it is so dry.”

Res­i­dents have been urged to reg­is­ter with WARN Cen­tral Texas to get up­dates on emer­gency in­ci­dents in Bastrop County and to mon­i­tor so­cial me­dia for im­por­tant dis­as­ter in­for­ma­tion.

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