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.