Wildfire risk in Central Texas keeps firefighters on edge

STARflight 4. (Natalie Stoll/KXAN)
STARflight 4. (Natalie Stoll/KXAN)

PFLUGERVILLE, Texas (KXAN) — The ongoing drought in Central Texas has firefighters planning for the worst as wildfire risks continue to rise.

Communities like Bastrop are still recovering from the devastating fires that ripped through area in 2011.

On Thursday, the Pflugerville Fire Department was making sure they knew what to do in this kind of situation. They weren’t able to help in Bastrop because they were fighting similar fires that same weekend. The fire forced hundreds of evacuations and the flames scorched more than 300 acres

“We have those moments where times are dangerous, that’s why we train,” said Capt. Bobby Ortiz with the Pflugerville Fire Department. He has been performing wildfire training for seven years. “Here we train every day, it doesn’t matter what day of the week.”

Trainers say fighting wild land fires take special skills, and special gear.

“It is a lighter type of personal protective equipment,” said Capt. Trevor Stokes. “When you look up at the helmet, all the way down to the boots, it’s designed so that they can move and work over terrain as opposed to inside a burning building.”

And in the end, it’s all about training to save lives.

“Before you hit the rack at nighttime, reflect,” Ortiz tells his firefighters. “Have you done something to make yourself better in your career, and the department better, so we can better serve our citizens?”

All of Pflugerville’s 75 firefighters took part in the training which included lessons on ways to improve communication to lower their risk of injury.

Starflight can also be used to help area fire departments. Their biggest tool is Starflight 4, a helicopter that can hold more than 350 gallons of water. The helicopter only takes about 45 seconds to fill up with water.

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