Las Cruces – Dick Barley has been volunteering with the Las Alturas Fire Department for almost four years. When the opportunity came for him to help contain the biggest fire in Texas history, he was ready.
Barley is part of a crew hired by Pecos Valley Wildfires, which operates several C130 tanker airplanes loaded with fire-retardant slurry. The company deployed to fight the Central Texas wildfires on Sept. 9, 2011, arriving at the Austin International Airport the next day. The crew has been hard at work ever since.
"Our shifts average between 10 and 1l hours a day," Barley said. "It takes between 11 and 15 minutes to load 3,000 gallons of slurry on these planes, and only seconds for it to be unloaded through an 18-inch pressurized hose."
Barley's job is to do whatever necessary to get the slurry on the planes, whether it's mixing the slurry, pumping it onto the plane, or fixing the equipment that moves the material from a storage tank to the plane.
After the Bastrop Fire was contained, a lightning strike in nearby Hamilton meant more work for Barley and his crew. Right now, there is no set date for him to return home.
"Our service area is about 300 miles, so we're available to respond to areas as far away as Louisiana," Barley said, adding that he didn't realize the magnitude of the fires in the Austin area until he arrived. "It's a devastating situation, and it's hard to see so many people displaced from their homes."
According to Barley, briefings at his post indicate there's no relief from additional threats of fire without significant rainfall, which is not expected.
To date, almost four million acres have burned and 2,700 homes have been destroyed across Texas, with damages estimated at more than $250 million.