The Amazon is ablaze. Wildfires have returned to California. With Texas hot and dry, firefighters around the state are bracing for fires here.
As we have seen in the California fires, they spread rapidly and don't care what burns.
Bastrop still is recovering from the devastating fires of September and October 2011. Three fires that started on Sept. 4 of that year merged into one massive blaze that claimed four lives and destroyed 1,673 homes. Damage from the fire was estimated in excess of $325 million.
Even worse, the fire caused severe damage to Bastrop State Park, burning many of the historic Lost Pines unique to that area. Thanks to the Texas A&M Forest Service and numerous volunteers -- including countless Aggies -- seedlings from the Lost Pines were planted are thriving eight years later. Nature, indeed, is an amazing place.
Months before the Bastrop fire, in June, firefighters battled the Dyer Fire in Grimes County. Many families had to leave with what they could grab quickly. Livestock was evacuated, although not all could be saved. The trees destroyed could have produced almost $54 million of wood and paper products.
Driving down F.M. 1774 now, the trees have returned and are growing ever taller.
Any time there is a fire, anywhere in the United States, courageous firefighters arrive on scene to spend however many days it takes to put out the flames. When they are done, they return home and pick up their lives where they left off -- until the next fire.
The Texas A&M Forest Service is in the forefront of preparing to fight and fighting these types of fires, and it does a magnificent job.
To speed up its ability to fight fires as quickly as possible, the Texas A&M Forest Service last week opened the Austin Airtanker Base at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport. In recent fires, the Forest Service has used helicopters and single-engine planes to aid in firefighting efforts -- and they are wonderful tools to assist the men and women battling the blaze on the ground.
But the huge jets that will fly out of the Austin Airtanker Base can carry much more fire retardant to drop on a fire to help extinguish the flames. Surely all of us have seen video of the big jets dropping red fire retardant on fires around the country.
The Texas A&M Forest Service won't own the planes flying out of Austin. Rather, it will maintain the facility for aircraft owned by the U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management. The Airtanker Base will be staffed with firefighters from the Texas A&M Forest Service, the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Forest Service and members of the Austin Fire Department.
We would hope the planes and crews from the Airtanker Base won't be needed, but reality says they will. We are so glad those men and women and that equipment will be available whenever it is needed. The planes stationed there will be able to reach a fire anywhere in the state in an hour or less.
While the firefighters are ready when needed, we all have a role to play in preventing fires. Don't throw cigarettes out of your vehicle. When camping, make sure all fires are completely out when leaving. Be careful when cooking outdoors. In other words, use common sense.
Thank you to everyone involved in establishing the Austin Airtanker Base. Your work is appreciated.