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Air Force Reserve unit deploys to fight California fires

An Air Force Reserve Command C-130 Hercules equipped with the Modular Airborne Firefighting System departs Peterson Air Force Base, Colo., Oct. 23 en route to Point Mugu Naval Air Station, Calif. The objective of the MAFFS program is to provide emergency capability to supplement the existing commercial airtanker support on wildland fires. (U.S. Air Force photo/Maj. James R. Wilson)

An Air Force Reserve Command C-130 Hercules equipped with the Modular Airborne Firefighting System departs Peterson Air Force Base, Colo., Oct. 23 en route to Point Mugu Naval Air Station, Calif. The objective of the MAFFS program is to provide emergency capability to supplement the existing commercial airtanker support on wildland fires. (U.S. Air Force photo/Maj. James R. Wilson)

Tech. Sgt. Ramon Valdiviex prepares aircraft parts and equipment to be loaded onto an Air Force Reserve C-130 bound for southern California Oct. 23 to lay lines of containment to help in the fight against the wildfires burning there. Two of the Modular Airborne Firefighting Systems departed Peterson Air Force Base, Colo., earlier that day. Sergeant Valdiviez was loads the final cargo aircraft with supplies needed to sustain the aerial firefighting mission as long as needed. Sergeant Veldiviex is with the 39th Aerial Port Squadron.(U.S. Air Force photo/Maj. James R. Wilson)

Tech. Sgt. Ramon Valdiviex prepares aircraft parts and equipment to be loaded onto an Air Force Reserve C-130 bound for southern California Oct. 23 to lay lines of containment to help in the fight against the wildfires burning there. Two of the Modular Airborne Firefighting Systems departed Peterson Air Force Base, Colo., earlier that day. Sergeant Valdiviez was loads the final cargo aircraft with supplies needed to sustain the aerial firefighting mission as long as needed. Sergeant Veldiviex is with the 39th Aerial Port Squadron.(U.S. Air Force photo/Maj. James R. Wilson)

A Peterson Air Force Base, Colo., C-130 Hercules dispenses fire retardant liquid during a Modular Airborne Firefighting System mission in Klamath Falls, Ore., in August 2006. A MAFFS unit can discharge its load, 3,000 gallons weighing 28,000 pounds, in a little over five seconds. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Lee Harshman)

A Peterson Air Force Base, Colo., C-130 Hercules dispenses fire retardant liquid during a Modular Airborne Firefighting System mission in Klamath Falls, Ore., in August 2006. A MAFFS unit can discharge its load, 3,000 gallons weighing 28,000 pounds, in a little over five seconds. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Lee Harshman)

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. (AFPN) -- Two Air Force Reserve Command firefighting C-130 Hercules aircraft left Oct. 23 to help battle the raging wildfires in Southern California.

The National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho, requested Department of Defense assistance in fighting the fires which put the wheels in motion for the deployment of about 30 reservists from Peterson Air Force Base, Colo. 

The aircraft arrived at Point Mugu Naval Air Station, Calif., where they joined other military aircraft providing additional firefighting capabilities.

"The 302nd Airlift Wing has had this mission for roughly 15 years," said Capt. Brian McReynolds, a C-130 pilot and member of the Colorado Springs-based unit. "We have the right people and the safest equipment available for this mission. This is what we love to do."

The planes departed with the Modular Airborne Firefighting System in place. When loaded inside the cargo bay, MAFFS units convert the aircraft from a transporter to an aerial tanker capable of dispersing fire-retardant slurry to extinguish wildfires. The Airmen said they hoped to begin flying missions in California early Oct. 24.

"We'll hit the ground right away," said Lt. Col. Dave Condit, the AFRC MAFFS program coordinator at Peterson AFB. "We may have to wait until the winds die down just a little bit. As soon as the winds permit us to get in close to the fire, (we'll start flying our missions.)"

Crewmembers certified on the MAFFS equipment said their objective is not to put the fire out, but to follow the lead of aviators from the Forest Service to lay lines of containment.

"We have a host of support specialists on the ground to help keep us flying," said the colonel. "It's sort of like a NASCAR pit stop. When we roll into the pits, we'll stop our engines. (The ground crew) will run up, refill the aircraft with fuel, slurry and compressed air, which we need to pump the retardant out. Then we'll get back in the air as quickly as we can."

The process for replenishing the aircraft can be performed in 8 to 12 minutes, according to officials from Peterson. It is repeated as often as necessary to sustain firefighting operations throughout daylight hours.

All of the MAFFS equipped-flying units are currently in the Air Force's air reserve components -- three in the Air National Guard and one in AFRC.  By law, MAFFS only can be activated when all other resources have been exhausted.

"We let the civilian tanker fleet take care of the issues first," said Colonel Condit. "If they need assistance, that's when the Department of Defense will roll in. We don't compete for business with civilian (aerial firefighting) companies. Usually if you see us taking off, you know the situation is pretty critical."

The typical aerial firefighting mission is inherently dangerous, which is why the Reserve unit at Peterson AFB only selects the most experienced aviators for the duty.

"We've got people that wait for years to get an opportunity to get certified for this mission," said the colonel. "The unit only takes the most experienced aircrewmembers, and we go through a lot of training and preparation for this.

"Our target altitude is 150 feet above the ground, which is very low for an aircraft this size," he said. "It's a hazardous mission, but we train for it and we're (definitely)prepared. We have a long and proud history of supporting contingencies overseas, but it's always great to be able to support the United States in the United States."

Last year, the 302nd Operations Group's MAFFS mission was activated by the Forest Service to fight wildfires in the Pacific Northwest. The unit flew 18 sorties against fires in Idaho, Nevada and Oregon, dropping 48,600 gallons of retardant.

(Courtesy of Air Force Reserve Command News Service)

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