Austin Fire Department gets new equipment to battle wildfires



Posted on February 21, 2014 at 10:40 AM

AUSTIN, Texas -- On Thursday, the Central Texas area was under a red flag warning. That means high winds and low humidity make for prime wildfire conditions.

In Austin, it also means all corners of the city are covered and all hands are on deck.

“We were shadowing our engines with our brush trucks, but we also staffed the four corners of the city with fully staffed brush trucks,” said Austin Fire Department Captain Josh Portie. “Today we paid extra added time to have added staff for those apparatus to be available to respond.”

So far it’s been calm this season, but conditions are ripe for fires especially in Austin where AFD has been doing prescribed burns.

“The fuels are burning well. On a day like this, when our fuels are already ready and we see these high winds and low humidity, if a fire occurs, it’s going to move, and move pretty intently,” Portie said.

Fuels are natural elements like dead grass that help fires spread.

Right now, AFD crews are clearing that fuel by removing brush in high-risk areas in west Austin, specifically the Jester Estates Community.

“We’re not clearing vegetation. We’re not creating fire breaks, and we’re not mowing down trees. We’re removing the dead and the down vegetation and the ladder fuels, so the fuels that could cause a ground gas fire to get up into the canopy to cause a much larger, intense fast-moving wildfire,” said Portie.

AFD also has some new equipment to help them fight fires more efficiently, like two more brush trucks and several Polaris ATVs.

“They’re extremely versatile. It’s much smaller so we can really get into these tight spots," Portie said.

The department has four of them, ready to deploy as soon as a fire sparks.

“Any of our wild lands around here, not just in west Austin but in east Austin, access is tight and limited. We can really get into a lot of places really quick and easily,” said Portie.

While the department can’t predict how bad fires will be as temperatures slowly start to rise, they do know one thing.

“The 2011 wildfire season, I think, a lot of people would call a precursor to what may be our new norm. Every couple years we have a very intense wildfire season," Portie said.

So if this is does turn into an intense wildfire season, they’re more prepared than ever before.