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Fire Fighting Helicopter Purchase Approved For Travis County
With so many wildfires ripping through Travis County recently, resources and equipment have been spread thin to combat the flames.
Travis Country Commissioner Karen Huber said she experienced the panic of wildfires first-hand when she was forced to evacuate her house three times during the 2011 Spicewood fire. Tuesday, the Travis County Commissioners unanimously approved adding a fourth helicopter to the Travis County Star Flight fleet.
"In the wildfire prone areas of Travis County there's not really access, surface access, no roads to get appropriate equipment there, so aerial support is huge," Huber said. "[The commissioners] have worked very hard to identify the appropriate equipment at the appropriate price."
Travis County Star Flight Program Director Casey Ping said the new aircraft will be dedicated to fighting fires and cost half as much to operate as the current helicopters.
"There are no new personnel we are going to operate and maintain it with the personnel that we have," Ping said. "This aircraft will carry three-times as much water as our aircraft can currently and at about half the cost."
Ping said the new addition to the fleet is refurbished and will cost $2 million compared to the $8 million for each of the other three. To operate per flight hour, the new helicopter will cost $700 versus $12,000 the older helicopters cost.
Ping said the advantage of the new aircraft is that it will be cheaper to fly and that way Star Flight will be able to operate within its budget.
Huber said Travis County has lacked the proper equipment to fight fires and said the new helicopter is worth the investment.
"The tax payers can feel comfortable in knowing that should we have another wildfire we are much better equipped to stop it sooner," Huber said.
Star Flight said they expect the helicopter to be functioning by April 1, 2013.
By Cassie Gallo