Texas A&M Forest Service utilizes Abilene airport to fight wildfires

ABILENE, Texas (KTAB/KRBC) — The Abilene Regional Airport is serving as a refueling and resupplying hub for the Texas A&M Forest Service in its efforts to fight the Panhandle wildfires.

Wildfires in the Texas panhandle have destroyed more than a million acres of land. The Smokehouse Creek Fire, the largest of these wildfires, has only been contained up to 44%. Efforts from all over the country have come together to help extinguish this fire, and one of these entities is currently stationed at Abilene Airport.

‘Smokehouse Creek’ Fire in Hutchinson, Roberts County burns 1,059,570 acres, 44% contained

The Texas A&M Forest Service currently has half a dozen aircraft housed here in Abilene. These aircraft have made repeated runs to drop water and a flame-retardant solution onto these fires. Air Tanker Base Manager Mike Pedersen explained the process of fighting fires across Texas and the importance of the dedicated personnel involved.

“We’re here to support any time there is fire danger. We start bringing in resources. We will have aircraft available here, as well as single-engine air tankers closer to where the fires are at seat bases, and we provide coverage throughout the state,” Pedersen said.

Our neighbors to the north are currently facing a dangerous enemy – the blazing wildfires. However, some good news has arrived in the form of military support from the California Air National Guard. Nathan Southwick, the Aircraft Commander, described the specialized equipment used in his C-130J and the unique challenges of these types of flight missions compared to the aircraft’s usual routine.

“Basically, the system is loaded on the ground with 3,000 gallons of retardant. We pressurize it with air, and it’s essentially a giant super soaker. In a firefighting environment, we typically drop about 150 feet above the ground at about 120 knots, which is much different than going A to B at 25,000 feet,” Southwick shared.

How Big Country residents are assisting fire efforts in the Panhandle

In these situations, time is of the essence, and Mike Pedersen commends the Abilene Regional Airport and its staff for their assistance in facilitating their mission.

“It’s about 30 to 45 minutes to get to the fires that are up there, and we can get them turned out of here pretty quickly so that we are providing as much retardant as we can on the ground. We get so much support from these people here. They’re the best fuelers in the country,” Pedersen said.

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