USA –-PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. (AFNS) — Members of the 731st Expeditionary Air Squadron arrived during the early morning hours of June 27 to prepare the Modular Airborne Fire Fighting System-equipped C-130 Hercules for another day of aerial fire-fighting.
MAFFS is a self-contained aerial firefighting system owned by the U.S. Forest Service that can discharge 3,000 gallons of water or fire retardant in less than five seconds, covering an area one-quarter of a mile long by 100 feet wide. Once the load is discharged, it can be refilled in less than 12 minutes.
The day before saw significant MAFFS activity as the four C-130s, two from the Air Force Reserve Command’s 302nd Airlift Wing and two from the Wyoming Air National Guard’s 153rd Airlift Wing dropped 65,000 gallons of Phos-Chek fire retardant in the Rocky Mountain region. Despite such an active day with so many gallons dropped, the mood was heavy as many of those involved in the operation were local Airmen who have friends and family members who were evacuated the day before. But even with their thoughts on those going through incredible hardships, the members of the 731 EAS were eager to get back into the fight.
“It’s a little stressful,” said Lt. Col. Luke Thompson, 302nd Airlift Wing Chief of Aerial Firefighting. “Some (MAFFS crew members) have evacuees in their home. Some are worried how far the fire is going to go, if it’s going to get close to their home, but they are dealing with it.”
“We feel almost helpless,” said Staff Sgt. Raymond Durban, an avionics technician from the 302nd Maintenance Group, who is assisting with the refilling of the MAFFS units and has co-workers who evacuated. “But we are bearing down and ready to go this morning. We are just waiting for the go-ahead from the (U.S.) Forest Service.”
The Waldo Canyon fire grew in size by thousands of acres yesterday due to shifting and increased winds, despite the best efforts of the C-130 aircrews and the entire unified command team.
“We’ve dropped on a lot of really big fires, but (we’ve seen nothing) like this as far as close proximity to major cities so you have a little more sense of urgency that we’ve got to get these drops and get them right the first time,” said Maj. Neil Harlow, a pilot with the Wyoming Air National Guard’s 153rd Airlift Wing. “The smoke, especially down at the Waldo Canyon fire, has made it difficult to see the targets.”
The first MAFFS-equipped C-130 left Peterson AFB, Colo., June 27 at 9:30 a.m. to again work on the Waldo Canyon fire. They are expected to make drops throughout the day.
In addition to the 153rd and 302nd Airlift Wings, the 146th AW in Channel Islands, Calif., and the 145th AW, in Charlotte, N.C., possess the ability to assist federal, state and local wildland fire-fighting agencies and organizations with MAFFS.
The MAFFS program is a joint effort between the U.S. Forest Service and the Department of Defense.