ABILENE, Texas (KTAB/KRBC) – At 4:30 p.m. Wednesday, a Large Air Tanker (LAT) arrived at the Abilene Regional Airport from Missoula Montana. The crew arrived ready to re-fuel and fill up with fire retardant to respond to a fire out in the Davis Mountains. Air Tanker Base Manager Mike Pederson said the crew will have to wait until tomorrow to leave out when wind conditions hopefully die down.

“One of the scary things is when the wind blows this hard, we can’t fly,” Pederson expressed.

Pederson said high wind speeds can cause the fire retardant to disperse before hitting the ground.

“It’s a waste of time, a waste of taxpayer money and just not worth the risk,” Pederson explained.

First thing Thursday morning, the Montana crew will make for the mountains. Co-Pilot Nick Taylor said it should be just like any other run from then on.

“People think it’s scary or like a rollercoaster, but it’s not that bad… It’s a lot like coming in to land at an airport and not landing,” Taylor said.

The base crew is all prepared and ready to face this fire season, especially since the Abilene base is the only one in the state open at the moment. Pederson said its central location and low air traffic make it a prime spot for fire response just about anywhere in Texas.

“Everyone’s really happy that Abilene’s back open. The food’s great the people are great. It’s my favorite tanker base,” Pederson expressed.

That prime location could soon see an expansion. Pederson said, pending legislation, the Abilene base might become a permanent air tanker base. It would also receive upgrades such as a lengthened runway that is able to service Very Large Air Tankers (also known as VLATS). VLATS are able to dispense closer to 10,000 gallons of retardant per load whereas LATS can only hold about 3,000 gallons at a time.

“Hopefully we’ll get a runway extension here so we can bring VLATs into Abilene because it’s the perfect spot,” Pederson shared.

Although the base is not normally open year-round, the arrival of this first tanker of the year will put the base in operational condition and ready to respond to Texas fire threats at a moment’s notice.