Forest Service & DoD fighting fires in Colorado

| June 12, 2013

It hasn’t been in the news very much, but apparently, there are wildfires roaring in Colorado. Thousands of people have been evacuated from their homes. The Forest Service emails us that they’re on the job along with Department of Defense air assets;

WASHINGTON, June 12, 2013 — The U.S. Forest Service is mobilizing two Department of Defense C-130s equipped with Modular Airborne Firefighting Systems, known as MAFFS, to assist with wildfire suppression efforts in Colorado and elsewhere in the West as needed.

The systems will be provided by the 302nd Airlift Wing, Air Force Reserve, Peterson Air Force Base, Colo. They will be based in Colorado Springs, Colo., and will begin flying wildfire suppression missions as soon as safe and effective operations can be established.

“We are experiencing an uptick in wildfire activity and we are mobilizing MAFFS to ensure that we have adequate air tanker capability as we confront explosive wildfire conditions in Colorado, New Mexico, and elsewhere in the West,” said U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell. “Maintaining adequate aerial firefighting capability is critical to provide support to, and enhance the safety of, the firefighters on the ground who are working so hard to suppress wildfires that are threatening lives, homes, infrastructure, and valuable natural and cultural resources.”

Modular Airborne Firefighting Systems are portable fire retardant delivery systems that can be inserted into military C-130 aircraft to convert them into large airtankers when needed. Military C-130s equipped with the systems can drop up to 3,000 gallons of fire retardant on wildfires. They can discharge their entire load in under five seconds or make variable drops.

Airtankers are used in wildfire suppression to deliver fire retardant to reduce the intensity and slow the growth of wildfires so that firefighters on the ground can construct containment lines safely, which is how wildfires are suppressed. Fire retardant is not typically used to suppress wildfires directly. Professional fire managers decide whether to use airtankers to deliver fire retardant , and where to use them, based on the objectives they have established to manage wildfires and the strategies they are using to achieve them. Airtankers are not requested for all wildfires.

The Modular Airborne Firefighting Systems program is a joint effort between the U.S. Forest Service and Department of Defense that has been in place for 40 years. The U.S. Forest Service owns the Modular Airborne Firefighting Systems equipment and supplies the retardant, while the Department of Defense provides the C-130 aircraft, flight crews and maintenance and support personnel to fly the missions.

The U.S. Forest Service has a total of eight Modular Airborne Firefighting Systems ready for operational use. Military installations in Wyoming, North Carolina, California, and Colorado provide C-130s to fly the missions. Specifically, the 153rd Airlift Wing, Wyoming Air National Guard, Cheyenne; the 145th Airlift Wing, North Carolina Air National Guard, Charlotte; the 146th Airlift Wing, California Air National Guard, Port Hueneme; and the 302nd Airlift Wing, Air Force Reserve, Peterson Air Force Base, Colo.

In 2012, Modular Airborne Firefighting Systems delivered 2.4 million gallons of fire retardant while flying wildfire suppression missions in Colorado, Wyoming, South Dakota, Montana, Utah, Idaho, Oregon, California, and Nevada. That was the second busiest year for the systems in at least the last 20 years. 1994 was the busiest year, when they delivered more than 5 million gallons of fire retardant while flying wildfire suppression missions.

Over the last 10 years, military C-130s equipped with Modular Airborne Firefighting Systems have delivered a total of approximately 8.5 million gallons of retardant on wildfires, an average of about 850,000 gallons per year.

Each year, an average of nearly 75,000 wildfires burn an average of more than 7 million acres of private, state, and federal land in the United States.

Category: Air Force

Comments (9)

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  1. Hondo says:

    For anyone with friends/acquaintances in Colorado, the Colorado Office of Emergency Preparedness has a site that gives a map of current wildfires in the state, plus other info:

    Not the best fire maps out there, but they’ll at least show the general location and thus tell you if you have friends/acquaintances at risk.

  2. PintoNag says:

    A storm moves up the east coast, and it gets 24/7 coverage. Wildfires roar through a western state, and it’s “There’s what going on where?”

    Sometimes I’m glad we get ignored, and other times I just shake my head.

  3. ChipNASA says:

    Thanks Hondo,
    I was stationed at Peterson from 1986 to 1988 and lived on and off base. This was exactly what I was looking for when I heard about this, this morning.

  4. Thunderstixx says:

    When I was stationed in Alaska we went out to fight fires north of Eilson AFB every year. That was fun duty too !!!

    I rode on the bulldozer with a civilian contractor because I was so good at reading maps !!!

    That was a blast !!!

  5. Common Sense says:

    This has turned into an annual thing for us, starting with the Buffalo Creek Fire in 1996. One hundred+ years of fire suppression finally hit the tipping point. I fear it won’t end until every part of the Front Range has burned at least once. Do you think the environmentalists will listen now? Don’t hold your breath. Those trees that burned because they fight any attempt at thinning won’t grow back for over 100 years.

    I watched the Black Forest Fire build from my office window yesterday and knew it would be bad. Too many people are moving here with a dream of living in the midst of pine trees and no idea of the risk they’re taking and no one thinks it will happen to them.

    We lost our two family cabins in the Buffalo Creek Fire, at the time it was the largest in Colorado history. That record has been broken over and over again.

    We’ve rebuilt over the past 17 years. Our place is log (logs are slower to ignite) with a metal roof and lots of defensible space. On the other hand, my uncle rebuilt in a nice grove of surviving trees. The fire department declared it indefensible so I guess they didn’t learn either.

    Thank goodness for the folks at Peterson who do these MAFFS runs, I wish we had more of them. I also wish that our fire fighting dollars stayed here instead of being sent to DC so that the governor doesn’t have to beg for resources every year.

    As much as I love the mountains, I would never live there. It was stressful enough losing the cabin and what we had there. I don’t want to imagine what it’s like to lose everything.

  6. Sam says:

    You can check for fire information but firefighting efforts in Colorado forests are usually initiated by the appropriate county sheriff’s office after being notified by a 911 call. Fires don’t hit inciweb until they get escalated. You can’t rely on the news websites for up to date info, but your county’s website often has regular updates. Just FYI for those interested.

  7. Mike Kozlowski says:

    …There have been a couple of SCANG C-130s with the day-glo firefighting plane numbers buzzing me this last week – I work right across from Columbia (SC) Regional Airport and they shoot touch and goes all day.


  8. Pam says:

    I retired from the 302d 2 years ago and was trained as part of the ground crew servicing fuel and retardant to the MAFFS aircraft. What a mission and a great group of men and women. To fight fires in our own city 2 years in a row is heartbreaking.

  9. Nina says:

    Very thankful for all who are on the front lines of this fire and all the others in CO and around the country. Specifically the Black Forest Fire is going to take a long time to get under control. It has been so dry these last few years . . . the trees are just matchsticks waiting to be lit. 🙁

    This fire, as of a couple of minutes ago, isn’t up on inciweb. However, the El Paso County Sheriff’s office is doing a fantastic job of keeping everyone informed.