Northern Command Sending 14 Aircraft to Battle California Fires

By Tech. Sgt. Devin Fisher | USNORTHCOM Public Affairs | October 29, 2003

United States Northern Command is sending all eight of the Department of Defense’s C-130 aircraft equipped with the Modular Airborne Firefighting System, or MAFFS, and six CH-53 helicopters with fire suppression buckets to support the wildland firefighting effort.

While homeland defense is the primary mission of the command established as a result of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, U.S. Northern Command also provides “one-stop shopping” for military assistance to civil authorities in the event of disaster relief operations to include wildland fires.

“When called upon, Northern Command’s mission is to expeditiously support NIFC (the National Interagency Firefighting Center in Boise, Idaho) in order to lessen or eliminate the effects of wildland fires,” said Army Col Jay Marts, USNORTHCOM deputy chief of current operations.

MAFFS aircraft from the California Air National Guard’s 146th Airlift Wing, Channel Island Air National Guard Station, entered the fight Oct. 27 and Air Force Reserve C-130s from the 302nd Airlift Wing, Peterson Air Force Base, Colo., flew its first mission Oct. 28. Air National Guard aircraft from the 145th Airlift Wing, Charlotte, N.C., and the 153rd Airlift Wing, Cheyenne, Wyo., are scheduled to fly their first missions today.

Additionally, the Department of Defense has approved a NIFC request for six helicopters with fire suppression buckets. The helicopters will come from One Marine Expeditionary Force, Third Marine Aircraft Wing at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, Calif.

Firefighting support numbers for Oct. 28 are:

Unit Aircraft Personnel Missions Flown Retardent dispersed
146th AW 2/C-130 MAFFS 57 23 62, 100
302nd AW 2/C-130 MAFFS 41 1 2,700
Cumulative total 4 acft 98 24 64,800

The MAFFS is a modular unit, designed to be inserted into a C-130 aircraft. Each MAFFS unit is capable of carrying approximately 3,000 gallons of fire retardant. When discharged from about 200 feet above the tree lines the system is capable of covering an area of about 60 feet wide and one-quarter mile in length in approximately 10-11 seconds.

The Department of Defense is a “last resort,” and thus is only called in after all local and state assets have been utilized, Marts noted.

When NIFC determines military firefighting assistance is needed, the center sends a request for assistance to the Department of Defense. Once authorized, the tasking is sent to Northern Command to execute.