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Travis Co. Stares Down Wildfire Season with New Plan, Chopper

Jeff Heimsath for KUT News

Central Texas isn’t taking any chances when it comes to wildfires.

Today, Travis County unveiled a new STAR Flight helicopter designed to fight wildfires, and tomorrow the city and the county are teaming up for a series of public meetings for their “Community Wildfire Protection Plan.”

Melinda Mallia, an environmental project manager for Travis County, says the plan will let communities craft fire plans for their own needs, but also expand outreach and education efforts for communities unaware of wildfire risks.

“There’s quite a few communities that started doing this sort of thinking and planning after the Labor Day wildfires,” Mallia says. “So we expect some of them will be very organized and some of them will be just starting to think about what this could mean for their community if a wildfire came through.”

Mallia added that she hopes that the plan will inspire smaller neighborhood associations to make their own wildfire plans.

The first of five public meetings about this “Community Wildfire Protection Plan” is tomorrow evening at 6:30 at the Travis County Fire Department Headquarters on Blue Bluff Road.

And should the worst comes to pass, Travis County firefighters have a new weapon in their arsenal: a military “Huey” helicopter.

The chopper saw combat in Vietnam, but Lisa Block of Travis County Emergency Management says the refurbished helicopter has an advantage over newer, smaller aircraft.

“The new helicopter has got a larger tank and it’s also safer to drop water in an urban environment,” Block says. “So this helicopter is safer and carries a lot more water than our previous ones.”

The helicopters that Travis County currently uses to fight wildfires only hold about 130 gallons of water. By contrast, the belly of the Huey holds as much as 325 gallons. 

Andrew Weber is a general assignment reporter for KUT, focusing on criminal justice, policing, courts and homelessness in Austin and Travis County. Got a tip? You can email him at Follow him on Twitter @England_Weber.
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