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Northern Command Sending 14 Aircraft to Battle California Fires

By Tech. Sgt. Devin Fisher, USAF
Special to American Forces Press Service

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo., Oct. 29, 2003 – U.S. Northern Command is sending all eight of the Defense Department's C-130 aircraft equipped with the Modular Airborne Firefighting System, or MAFFS, and six CH-53 helicopters with fire suppression buckets to support the wildland firefighting effort in California.

While homeland defense is the primary mission of the command, established as a result of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, Northern Command also provides "one-stop shopping" for military assistance to civil authorities in disaster relief operations. "When called upon, Northern Command's mission is to expeditiously support (the National Interagency Firefighting Center in Boise, Idaho) in order to lessen or eliminate the effects of wildland fires," said Army Col. Jay Marts, Northern Command's deputy chief of current operations.

MAFFS aircraft from the California Air National Guard's 146th Airlift Wing, Channel Island Air National Guard Station, entered the fight Oct. 27. Air Force Reserve C-130s from the 302nd Airlift Wing, Peterson Air Force Base, Colo., flew their first missions Oct. 28. Air National Guard aircraft from the 145th Airlift Wing, Charlotte, N.C., and the 153rd Airlift Wing, Cheyenne, Wyo., are scheduled to fly their first missions today.

DoD also has approved a request for six helicopters with fire suppression buckets. The helicopters will come from 1st Marine Expeditionary Force, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, Calif.

C-130s from the 146th have flown 23 missions, dispersing 62,100 gallons of retardant. A 302nd C-130 dropped 2,700 gallons of retardant in one Oct. 28 mission. The MAFFS is a modular unit designed to be inserted into a C-130 aircraft. Each MAFFS unit is capable of carrying about 3,000 gallons of fire retardant. When discharged from about 200 feet above the treeline, the system is capable of covering an area about 60 feet wide and a quarter mile long in about 10 seconds.

The Defense Department is a "last resort," called in only after all local and state assets have been used, Marts noted.

When NIFC determines military firefighting assistance is needed, the center sends a request for assistance to the DoD. Once authorized, the order is sent to Northern Command to execute.

(Air Force Tech. Sgt. Devin Fisher is assigned to U.S. Northern Command Public Affairs.)

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