September 23, 2016 (by Ann Skarban) - The 2016 Modular Airborne Fire Fighting System Air Expeditionary Group along with two Air Reserve Component MAFFS-equipped C-130 aircraft completed a month-long activation in support of aerial fire suppression missions in the Western U.S., September 3, 2016.
A MAFFS-equipped C-130, assigned to the AFRC’s 302nd AW approaches the Power Line fire near Pocatello, Idaho on August 10, 2016. Aircraft and aircrews from the AFRC’s 302nd AW, and ANG’s 153rd AW provided MAFFS capabilities requested by the U.S. Forest Service, supporting aerial fire fighting suppression efforts to fires in Idaho, Oregon, Nevada and Utah August 3 to September 3. [USAF photo by Lt. Col. Frank Wilde]
This year’s MAFFS activation began when a Request for Assistance was made by the National Interagency Fire Center based in Boise, Idaho on Aug 2. The RFA requested two MAFFS-equipped C-130s along with appropriate command, control and support personnel to assist in wildfire suppression efforts in the Great Basin.
“We are mobilizing MAFFS to ensure we continue to have adequate airtanker capability as we experience elevated wildfire activity in Idaho, Utah, Nevada, Montana, Oregon, Washington, California and elsewhere in the West,” said Aitor Bidaburu, Chair of NIFC’s National Multi-Agency Coordinating Group in the NIFC news release announcing the MAFFS activation.
Aircraft and aircrews from the Air Force Reserve Command’s 302nd Airlift Wing, Peterson Air Force Base, Colo. and the Wyoming Air National Guard’s 153rd Airlift Wing, Cheyenne, Wyo. provided the requested MAFFS capabilities, supporting suppression efforts to fires in Idaho, Oregon, Nevada and Utah Aug. 3 to Sep. 3.
“Our training this spring and continued preparations allowed us to respond quickly, getting us out the door and on our way shortly after receiving the RFA,” said Col. James R. DeVere, commander of the 302nd Airlift Wing.
For the Peterson-based Reserve wing, this year’s preparations were similar to previous activations with the exception of the recent return of Reservists and aircraft from an overseas deployment in support of U.S. Central Command along with a catastrophic hail storm that hit Colorado Springs the evening of July 28, causing damage to a portion of the 302nd AW’s C-130 fleet.
At the close of the August MAFFS activation, in response to the operations tempo and hail storm, 302nd AW’s chief of aerial fire fighting and MAFFS program manager, Lt. Col. Luke Thompson lauded the efforts made by the wing, “I’d like to thank everyone who supported the firefighting missions in August and September that we just completed. After a long deployment last winter and spring, followed by a devastating hail storm right before the MAFFS call, the wing’s personnel made it a priority to support this important mission.”
Thompson also acknowledged the extra efforts in support of MAFFS given by the entire team at the Colorado Reserve wing to include aircraft maintainers, aircrews, support agencies and leadership, “Who many of which were still in recovery mode from the CENTCOM deployment, dropped their jobs and lives again in order to go fight fires.”
Immediately after their arrival in Boise on Aug. 3, the Airmen of the 302nd AW and 153rd AW began flying MAFFS missions the first day of their activation with retardant drops on the Pioneer Fire in Idaho.
“As always, our crews responded quickly and efficiently to the call,” said Col. Scott Sanders, MAFFS AEG commander.
Further describing this year’s MAFFS activation, Sanders said, “This was a unique activation for us because it was the first with aircrew members from the 152nd.”
“The month’s activation allowed the Nevada crews to experience actual MAFFS operations and gather more flying hours under their belts,” said Sanders of the Nevada Guard members who are slated to become the next MAFFS qualified C-130 wing, replacing the 145th AW, North Carolina ANG who will transition from a C-130 to C-17 airlift mission.
The MAFFS-equipped C-130s based out of Boise Air Tanker Base, Idaho made 165 retardant drops, releasing 395,632 gallons of retardant.
According to NIFC, the last 10 years, DOD C-130s equipped with U.S. Forest Service MAFFS systems have delivered a total of approximately 9.1 million gallons of retardant on wildfires, an average of about 910,000 gallons per year.
In addition to the U.S. Forest Service MAFFS RFA, the California Air National Guard’s 146th Airlift Wing supported a state activation of MAFFS providing aerial fire fighting suppression missions throughout California. Their efforts resulted in 112 drops, releasing 288,000 gallons of retardant.
As far as calling it mission complete for additional MAFFS AEG activations in 2016, Sanders is not certain, but based on the current weather conditions and National Preparedness Level lowering to PL3 on Sept. 2, he said, “We’re always ready to respond when called, however, I would not be surprised if we could take our MAFFS hats off until next year.”