Responding to wildfires from the ground and air, how Travis County prepares

The orange item is the 'pumpkin' that STAR Flight crews use to pick up water to help fight wildfires. (KXAN Photo/Todd Bynum)
The orange item is the 'pumpkin' that STAR Flight crews use to pick up water to help fight wildfires. (KXAN Photo/Todd Bynum)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — On windy and dry days like we’ve seen recently, the concern for wildfire grows rapidly on minds of many in Central Texas. That’s why several Travis County agencies teamed together to show how to best respond to a wildfire situation, in a “Wildfire Response” demonstration.

The purpose of Wednesday’s demonstration was to show how STAR Flight’s helicopters and ground firefighters work hand in hand to control an active fire. “Most people don’t realize we are one of the highest urban wildfire threat regions in the country,” says Brigid Shea, Travis County Commissioner. “The threat is very real here.”

One of the aircrafts on display is STAR Flight’s EC145 helicopter, capable of firefighting, emergency medical response, as well as search and rescue, all in one swoop. “It’s big enough that we’re able to do a number of different things including fire rescue and EMS mission profiles, but it’s small enough and efficient enough for a county like Travis County to have three of them available 24/7,” says Erick Ullman, an EMT Pilot. Ullman tells KXAN that each EC145 aircraft can carry 125 gallons of water, adding up to nearly 1,000 pounds.

Meanwhile, firefighters on the ground keep the water coming for the helicopters working on the active fires. Star Flight Program Director, Casey Ping, explains how some of their equipment works, like “the pumpkin.” Ping tells us, “One of the things we did was we bought these pumpkins, they’re designed specifically for this, and so it gives us a water source that we can set up close to the fire.” This is just one of multiple methods being used to battle fires in the most efficient way. Because at the end of the day, it’s not about when our next wildfire will happen… but when.

“These things happen whether we are ready for them or not, so we do our best to be ready all the time,” Ullman tells KXAN. provides commenting to allow for constructive discussion on the stories we cover. In order to comment here, you acknowledge you have read and agreed to our Terms of Service. Users who violate these terms, including use of vulgar language or racial slurs, will be banned. If you see an inappropriate comment, please flag it for our moderators to review.

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