WASHINGTON, July 25, 2014 —
As fires rage in two states in the Pacific Northwest, Defense Department fire-suppression efforts are underway with two Modular Airborne Fire Fighting System-capable C-130s from U.S. Northern Command in Colorado Springs, Colorado, Pentagon spokesman Army Col. Steve Warren said today.
Warren said the total-force operation includes nearly 300 Washington Army National Guard soldiers and six helicopters working with local first responders. In Oregon, about 40 state Army National Guardsmen and four helicopters are supporting fire suppression operations there.
“To date, the two MAFFS aircraft have flown 27 sorties, executing 41 airdrops and delivering nearly 80,000 gallons of fire retardant on fires in Idaho and Oregon,” Warren said.
Under Northcom authority, he added, nearly 40 active-duty Air National Guardsmen and the two MAFFS aircraft from the Wyoming Air National Guard’s 153rd Airlift Wing are supporting the National Interagency Fire Center’s efforts in the region out of Boise, Idaho.
DoD aircraft began missions July 20, and since then, 17 large fires have sparked in Washington and Oregon, with 13 of those in Oregon, said National Interagency Fire Center public affairs specialist Jennifer Smith in Boise.
“Since [July 20], 287,015 acres have burned and 157 structures have been lost in Washington,” Smith said, adding that more than 617,000 acres and nine structures have burned in Oregon.
There has been no containment of the 17 large-scale fires, Smith said, mostly because rainfall has moderated the fires.
“We are expecting nine of the 17 fires will be transferred back to the local units [such as the U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management] when they’re under control or contained in a day or so,” which would relieve DoD of its efforts in those fires, she added.
“The [MAFFS] mission is a big job, and I want to emphasize this is a team effort,” Air Force Col. Charles Davis III, commander of the Wildland Firefighting Expeditionary Group, said at a news conference in Boise today. Davis is with the North Carolina Air National Guard and is based at the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise for the effort.
The three Air National Guard wings -- the 153rd Airlift Wing from Wyoming and the 145th and 146th Airlift Wings from North Carolina -- – as well as the 302nd Airlift Wing, an Air Force Reserve unit from Colorado, “all support NIFC in fire suppression efforts whenever we are required to join the fight,” Davis said.
“This is 42nd year that C-130 aircraft have fought these fires,” Davis added. “It protects lives and properties of our fellow citizens, and we see it as a vital mission to the Air National Guard and Reserve.”
The Defense Department has eight air tankers at its disposal, said Air Force Lt. Col. Bryan Allen of the California Air National Guard’s 146th Airlift Wing said during the news conference. “We have air tankers throughout the country to respond to surge requirements. We maintain a readiness to bring these air tankers to the U.S. Forest Service in all four wings in less than 48 hours based on their needs.”
Allen said if fires break out in California and DoD support is needed, MAFFS are in the state. “We’re ready to rock,” he said.
The MAFFS system is pallet-based and rolls onto the back of a standard C-130, Allen explained. Each contains up to 3,000 gallons of fire retardant, which is dispensed under pressure, and can drop 27,000 pounds of retardant in three to five seconds, he said.
Pilots and crew members are Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve members, Allen added. “They are considered some of the best C-130 pilots in the world.”
The MAFFS pilots have a minimum of six years flying C-130s before being considered for aerial firefighting missions, he noted. That experience provides continuity over the years, he added, so pilots and flight crew members can perform the mission safely, effectively and efficiently.
“It takes more than an average C-130 pilot to do this type of mission,” Allen said.
(Follow Terri Moon Cronk on Twitter: @MoonCronkDoD)