ALICE, Texas — Since mid-February, Texas A&M Forest Service has allocated state and federal resources across Texas. In the Coastal Bend, crews are currently stationed in Alice and Beeville.
“We move resources around to where our areas of concern are at,” said James Russell, the incident commander in Alice for TFS.
Currently stationed in Alice are a helicopter, three brush trucks, a bulldozer and about 16 personnel. The crew and equipment come mostly from out of state.
Natalie Nichols is one of those crew members, based out of Utah. She is an assistant engine captain for the Bureau of Land Management.
“We go out and help with the wildfires that you guys see on TV,” Nichols said. “We go support different agencies, different places nationally.”
Gary A. Daigle is the pilot in command of the helicopter, and is contracted through Croman Corp. He is from Colorado Springs, Colo.
“We have a pretty good relationship with Texas. We’ve been doing this for decades,” he said.
Daigle said the helicopter he pilots is specifically modified to support firefighters. There are two 500-gallon tanks onboard, that can be released together, separately, or in succession, which allows crews to choose the best option for fighting a particular fire.
“If I go low flow on sequence, then the water will come out slower, and as soon as it’s out of water in one tank, it will start on the other tank,” Daigle said, describing how the water release works. “That’s ideal for a grass fire because it allows you to stretch that water out along the line of the fire.”
This is Nichols’ first time fighting fires in Texas, but it’s her eighth year fighting fires. She said she’s always glad to help out the local crews whenever she gets deployed somewhere.
“It’s a big family in the fire community, so you get to help different agencies, different backgrounds, different skill sets,” she said.
Russell said it’s important to be able to help out local crews, especially volunteer departments, like many are in the Coastal Bend.
“Their manpower is limited during the daytime, when their volunteers are at work. So, we come in and supplement those, and work hand-in-hand with those,” he said. “The volunteer fire service in Texas is the backbone of fire protection for the state.”
Daigle said it’s a combined effort from federal, state, and local crews that gets the job done.
“It’s just a function of a team effort, that’s how we put out fires. We don’t put them out by ourselves, we put them out through a team effort,” he said.
TFS officials said there is no set date for how long crews will remain stationed in the Coastal Bend.
The TFS continually monitors fire risk across the state, and allocates resources accordingly.