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Texas A&M Forest Service fights fires from Abilene Regional Airport

A grass fire in Tuscola Tuesday was reachable by fire crews, but for some grass fires that are unreachable or spread dangerously fast, air tankers from the Texas A&M Forest Service are called to help out.

"The aviation assets help us get to areas we can't reach or helps buy us time with the retardant, so it's very important to have these resources available," said Nick Harrison, Firewise Coordinator with the Texas A&M Forest Service.

Red Flag Warnings were issued across a majority of the Big Country Tuesday due to strong winds and dry conditions. On days when fire weather is a concern, the forest service is prepping to respond to the call.

"Meet with the pilots to see what the expected weather is supposed to be, what our fire behavior is going to do, so they'll know whether they have the potential for a mission and then pretty much, we wait until we get a mission," said Harrison.

Tuesday, the call came early in the day as a 1,000 acre fired raged in Pecos County. Both tankers responded to the fire, carrying a combined total of 3,800 gallons of a water and retardant mixture.

The retardant is primarily composed of phosphorus and appears red.

"It'll go in the plane as a slurry, it's about 12 pounds to the gallon and so both the large air tanker uses that and so does the single engine," said Harrison.

Once they get in the air and start dropping the mixture, they do so ahead of the fire.

"The retardant is used as an indirect method so we can get out ahead of it and coat the fuels," said Harrison.

Since water evaporates fast on fire weather days, the retardant is left behind on the fuels, which are the grass and brush that can feed a fire.

"This is the start of the winter fire season in Texas and until we get good green up, which is in about April, anytime we have frontal passages and conditions like this, we're going to have elevated to critical fire weather," said Harrison.

Harrison urges people to always report a fire because on fire weather days, fires can spread quickly and get out of control.

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