USA –-U.S. Rep. Elton Gallegly (R-Ventura & Santa Barbara Counties), introduced a bill today that would require the U.S. Forest Service to activate unused Modular Airborne FireFighting System (MAFFS) units to help alleviate the shortage of air tankers to fight wildfires.
MAFFS are portable tanks carried in the back of C-130s that are used to drop retardant on fires. One second-generation unused MAFFS unit and eight first-generation unused MAFFS units could be pressed into service. C-130 crews from the Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve have been trained to use the MAFFS.
In 2003, the Forest Service had 44 fixed-winged commercial firefighting planes at its disposal. Some of the planes crashed during service since then and much of the fleet has been grounded, Gallegly said. As of June 3, only eight commercial aircraft were available to fight wildfires. Its critical to have all available MAFFS units ready to take to the air under these circumstances.
As wildfires rage throughout the western United States, adding additional MAFFS units to the nations wildfire fighting capabilities is a responsible move, said Maj. Gen. David S. Baldwin, the adjutant general of the California National Guard. The California Air National Guards 146th unit would welcome the addition of a third MAFFS II unit and is always ready to assist first responders to protect critical infrastructure, communities and our nations forests.
Gallegly spearheaded the drive in Congress through legislation and appropriations to replace the first-generation MAFFS with the newer model and to replace the aging C-130s with state-of-the-art C-130Js. Two of the second-generation MAFFS units are stationed at Channel Islands Air National Guard in Point Mugu. The others are stationed in Colorado, Wyoming and North Carolina. By law, the MAFFS, which are owned by the Forest Service, cannot be used until all available U.S. commercial aircraft have been pressed into service.
In 2011, more than 74,000 wildfires burned more than 8.7 million acres in the United States. During the past 10 years, an average of 83,894 wildfires have burned an average of 7.4 million acres annually.
Specifically, Galleglys bill would:
Require the Forest Service to re-activate the eight MAFFS 1 units sitting in storage around the country.
Require the Forest Service to make available the ninth MAFFS II system that is sitting at Channel Islands, ready for use.
Prohibit the Forest Service from acquiring air tankers from a foreign government unless the chief of the Forest Service certifies to Congress that MAFFS units are being fully utilized or are not sufficient to address current wildfires.
Require the Forest Service to report to Congress within 30 days of enactment on how they intend to make the ninth MAFFS II unit available along with a timeline for making the MAFFS I units available.