"Spotters" Play Role in Putting Out Fires

High winds kept firefighters all over East Texas busy this weekend. The winds and dry weather helped to fuel dozens of grass fires. With so many fires, it was sometimes hard for fire departments to keep up. That's where the Texas Forest Service comes in. They use small planes to "spot" fires and coordinate efforts on the ground. Max Altenbaumer is one of the pilots contracted by the Forest Service to spot fires. His is a crucial role that helps keep you safe.

"We'll look for wildfires or fires period anywhere from a house fire to a backyard fire to an out of control wildfire," Altenbaumer said.

The fires are easy to see from the air but for firefighters on the ground they can be hard to locate. Max says that's where he comes in.

"I'll contact the forestry department and report the position of the fire," Altenbaumer said. "Where it's located, by what road, by what town or give GPS coordinates on that fire and then they'll take over on the ground. You basically coordinate what happens on the ground from the air."

Fire spotting is a thankless job, on to the next fire before the last is even out, but Max says most pilots don't complain.

"I talk to them all the time different places different parts of the territory that they cover and I don't think I've ever seen anybody climb on the airplane with a frown," Altenbaumer said

It's that passion for being in the air that helps keep you safe on the ground. Max called in about a dozen fires Sunday during his four hour shift. The Forest Service says many times it's the calls from their spotters that help them get to the blazes before they get out of hand.

Chris Gibson, reporting