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Western Wildfires Spark Guard/Reserve Assistance

By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Aug. 17, 2001 – Sixteen Air National Guard and Air Force reserve aircraft and 250 Guardsmen have now been called up to help fight wildfires burning in 10 western states, DoD officials said.

The Pentagon directed Aug. 16 that four more specially equipped firefighting planes and four support aircraft augment an eight-plane package and a liaison officer requested Aug. 14 by the National Interagency Fire Center, Pentagon spokesman Rear Adm. Craig Quigley told reporters Aug. 16.

The additional firefighting aircraft, two 302nd Air Wing Air Force Reserve planes from Colorado and two 145th Air Wing planes from the North Carolina Air National Guard, are slated to deploy to Boise, Idaho, said Pentagon spokesman Army Maj. Dan Stoneking.

The NIFC, headquartered in Boise, declared Aug. 16 that wildfire activity in Arizona, California, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oklahoma, Oregon, Texas, Washington and Wyoming has reached a level five alert status, the most serious.

At that point, according to the NIFC, military assistance is often called upon to augment severely stretched local resources. More than 500,000 acres are burning involving 42 fires across the western states, with almost 21,000 firefighters deployed.

The modular airborne firefighting systems, or MAFFS, are mounted on C-130 military aircraft and can disburse up to 3,000 gallons of fire retardant -- or water -- on fires, Stoneking said. Each MAFFS aircraft, he added, requires a support aircraft.

Quigley said two MAFFS-equipped planes from the 146th Air Wing of the California Air National Guard and two others from the Wyoming Air National Guard's 153rd Air Wing and four support aircraft were deployed Aug. 14 to Klammouth Falls, Ore.

"The National Guard is also providing about 250 Guard members from eight different states to assist firefighters in their efforts," Quigley noted. "At this point, all of these are state call-ups, called for by the governors of those respective states."

Quigley remarked that military support in fighting western wildfires "certainly could" expand in coming weeks.

"I heard that the governor of Oregon is about ready to call up several hundred Oregon National Guardsmen I would expect the numbers to grow in the days ahead, perhaps different types of equipment, as well," he said.

Last year, more than 4,000 service members from the Army, Marines, Air and Army National Guard conducted firefighting and support operations for western wildfires in response to requests from NIFC and as directed by the governors of several western states, according to DoD.


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