Nevada Air National Guard aircrew equipped with the U.S. Forest Service’s Modular Airborne Fire Fighting System saw their firefighting activation orders extended as fires continue to threaten life and property across California.
Members of the 152nd Airlift Wing, Nevada Air National Guard activated July 29, the unit’s first firefighting activation in two years following a 2019 season that saw little need to request the military as a surge capacity for wildland fire suppression efforts. The situation around the western U.S. is different this year, federal firefighting officials say, and the Reno C-130 unit’s current extension for assistance is set to last through Sept. 17.
“Our low-level tactical training prepares us for these missions,” said Maj. Tom Dorsett, 152nd MAFFS C-130 flight navigator. “Safety and accuracy is the priority. There are lots of factors to consider to get us safely to the fire; the other being air traffic, the terrain involved, our aircrew safety and the safety of the ground crew.”
Since arriving at Sacramento McClellan Airport on July 29, the 152nd MAFFS 8 aircraft made 12 drops and flew more than 14 sorties — dropping more than 35,000 gallons of retardant in about 20 hours of flight time. These drops supported suppression efforts of the Stagecoach Fire in Kern County, California, and Sites Fire in Colusa County, California. The 152nd is one of four military units in the Air Expeditionary Group. All units have actively participated in firefighting fires this summer.
“We all band together,” said Senior Airman McKenzie Burke, flight line crew chief for the 152nd. “It is rewarding seeing the plane go up, knowing it is going to protect lives and property, we had a role in that.”
The 152nd prepared for the upcoming fire season during annual training in June 2020, when state and federal wildland firefighting assets came together to train over the Tahoe National Forest.
The coordinated efforts of the aircrew and maintainers, and other federal and state entities, ensure a MAFFS C-130 can safely convert a military transport aircraft into a firefighting air tanker and reach its target to stop a fire from spreading. These military aircraft serve as a surge capacity and enter the fire fight when the commercial air tankers are not readily available.
MAFFS can drop up to 3,000 gallons of fire retardant in less than 10 seconds across a quarter-mile line. The system slides into the back of the military aircraft, and retardant is released through a nozzle on the rear left side.
The 152nd is one of four units in the Department of Defense MAFFS Air Expeditionary Group which also includes the 302nd Airlift Wing, Air Force Reserve Command, Peterson Air Force Base, Colorado; 153rd Airlift Wing, Wyoming Air National Guard and 146th Airlift Wing, California Air National Guard.