A C-130 drops a load of a retardant in Colorado in June. (Air Force)
After 12 weeks of fighting one wildfire after another across the Western U.S., the Air Force’s specially equipped C-130s have stood down, for now.
Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve C-130s outfitted with the Modular Airborne Fire Fighting System returned to their home mission Sept. 5 after fighting the Rim Fire near Yosemite National Park, Calif. The crews will remain on call if any future needs arise, but for now will be able to relax after one of the most intense fire seasons in recent memory, said Lt. Col. Robert Carver, spokesman for the 2013 MAFFS Air Expeditionary Group.
Since being activated on June 11, MAFFS crews have flown 572 missions and made 535 drops with a total of 1,375,981 gallons of fire retardant on fires in Idaho, Oregon, Wyoming, Colorado, Utah, Arizona, California and Nevada, according to U.S. Northern Command.
Most recently, five C-130s — two from the Reserve’s 302nd Airlift Wing, Peterson Air Force Base, Colo.; one from the North Carolina’s 145th Airlift Wing and two from the California Air National Guard’s 146th Airlift Wing — had been fighting the rim fire. As of Sept. 5, the Rim Fire had burned almost 240,000 acres and was about 80 percent contained.
The C-130s joined a firefighting force of more than 5,100 firefighters, along with helicopters and modified DC-10 airliners.
The U.S. Forest Service said the fire had been sparked by an illegal fire that a hunter let “escape.” The Forest Service on Sept. 3 notified the Defense Department that wild land fire activity had begun to “moderate” and that additional civilian air tankers would be available, allowing the C-130s to head home.
The MAFFS system features special equipment that can drop 3,000 gallons of retardant or water in about five seconds.
The aircraft are controlled by a joint Defense Department and Forest Service program and are activated when private tankers can no longer meet the needs of the Forest Service.
While this year was busy, the crews have not been as active in previous years. At one time last year, all eight MAFFS-equipeed C-130s were activated at once. Typically, as happened this year, crews rotate to “keep everybody fresh,” Carver said.