USA — Air Force and Air National Guard aircraft continue to assist local, state and federal firefighters in Texas. The 302nd Air Expeditionary Group is operating out of Austin-Bergstrom International Airport in Austin, Texas. Flying C-130 aircraft equipped with MAFFS 2 fire retardant dispersal systems, the airmen are filling gaps caused by the lack of civilian assets. The U.S. Forest Service canceled a contract in late July that provided six airtankers for firefighting, leaving only 13 large civilian aircraft available nationwide.
The aircraft from the 302nd Air Expeditionary Group were in Texas earlier this year as well. Wildfires in April and May resulted in a request from Texas to the U.S. Forest Service and from there to the U.S. Northern Command for assistance. In the first week of this rotation, the military aircraft dropped 45,000 gallons of fire retardant. The latest mission for the military firefighters was attacking the SOUTH 104 – Hardeman County fire on Wednesday.
The military has eight aircraft that can carry the modular MAFFS 2, two each from the 146th Airlift Wing from Channel Islands Air National Guard Base in Southern California; the 302nd Airlift Wing out of Colorado Springs, Colo.; the 145th from North Carolina’s Air National Guard; and the 153rd out of Cheyenne, Wyo.
Two Air Force Reserve C-130s are working with two Air National Guard planes. The North Carolina Air Guard aircraft have rotated out and been replaced by the Wyoming Air National Guard aircraft.
The drought in Texas is termed “exceptional,” according to the state Drought Monitor. 86 percent of Texas has that level of drought conditions. The Texas Forest Service is reporting that, due to the shortage of aircraft, two Canadian heavy airtankers have arrived in Austin to aid the firefighting statewide. John Nielsen-Gammon, the Texas State climatologist, is quoted by KTBX television as saying that the drought could last until 2020.
Through Wednesday, Texas has seen 21,546 fires that burned 3,764,123 acres and destroyed 6,919 structures. President Barack Obama declared the wildfires in Texas a major disaster on Sept. 9. Bloomberg is reporting that Texas agricultural experts are estimating losses due to just the fires will exceed $152 million this year.