Texas saw one of its worst wildfire seasons in 2022, with multiple severe fires across the state. The year also became the biggest season for aerial firefighting, Aerial Fire Mag reported.
More than 2,000 wildfires were fought only by firefighters from the Texas A&M Forest Service, which saved more than 8,000 homes over the course of the season.
When A.M. Peeler Ranch in southern Atascosa County was threatened in March, Barbara Peeler credited Texas A&M with saving her family’s ranch.
“The response was unbelievable,” Peeler said. “They had multiple fire departments, bulldozers, helicopters, a big airplane. It could have gotten to some structures, but they caught it in time.”
Texas A&M, along with local departments in the state, responded to more than 11,000 wildfires in 2022.
Air tankers and helicopters were used to support those on the ground.
“All firefighting aircraft in Texas follows strict state and federal guidelines for safety, operation, training and equipment,” Texas A&M Forest Service shared. “Texas A&M Forest Service has two large portable air tanker bases; they are located at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport and Abilene Regional Airport. Either base can be set up in 24 hours and are able to support ground operations for mixing and loading of fire retardant in heavy air tankers.”
In April of last year, Texas A&M had aerial teams ready to respond to wildfire threats in the Southern Great Plains, ABC 7 reported. The team came from Aero Tech.
Pilot Greg Schultz shared at the time that the main focus of the team was structural protection.
“We’re doing structure protection and we’re working the fire line to try to knock down the flame lanes to make the ground firefighters’ job a lot more safe and effective,” he said.
Schultz added that being a volunteer firefighter is a unique type of work and that Texas has an impressive program.
Some of the largest fires that Texas experienced in 2022, according to Aerial Fire Mag, were the Dempsey Fire in Palo Pinto County, the Chalk Mountain Fire near Glen Rose, the 1148 Fire in Palo Pinto County, and the Lazy Fire in Palo Pinto County.
During the year, about 130 aircraft dropped more than 11 million gallons of retardant to support the efforts of firefighters, Aerial Fire Mag reported. More than 4,450 out-of-state firefighters also showed up to help throughout the year.
If needed, single-engine air tankers (SEATs) can be placed at additional Texas airports if conditions dictate. Such agreements have been made for SEAT bases in Abilene, Amarillo, Giddings, Fort Stockton, Mineral Wells, and Fredericksburg, according to Texas A&M.
Just one SEAT can carry between 600 and 800 gallons of either retardant or water.
SEAT bases are usually activated at the start of the season, according to Texas A&M. This allows them to be active before major wildfire activity starts.
A manager and loader are needed for these bases. As government employees, SEAT managers go through nationally recognized training programs and must complete proficiency tasks. Texas A&M has several employees qualified to perform these duties across the state.
SEATs come from private companies that have contracts with the government and they can be ordered by the Texas A&M Forest Service.