July 21, 2008 —
Eight U.S. Marine Corps and U.S. Navy Reserve helicopters are returning to their home stations in California following several weeks of fighting wildland fires in California.
At the request of the State of California, and using existing agreements with the Department of Defense, the National Interagency Fire Center requested the federal military helicopters in support of the state of California in late June. An overnight lightning storm on June 20-21 ignited more than 1,500 wildfires in Northern California and overwhelmed most in-state resources responsible for initial and extended attach of wildfires.
The Northern California Multi-Agency Coordination Group – an interagency group of wildland fire officials based in Redding – made the decision to release the helicopters because many fires are reaching containment benchmarks and the normal fleet of civilian contracted helicopters should be sufficient to meet firefighting needs.
“The military helicopters pitched in and provided some good support,” said Lyle Carlile, the Bureau of Indian Affairs fire director at NIFC and a spokesman for the National Multi-Agency Coordination Group. “They were a big piece of a major interagency cooperative effort to fight these fires.”
The helicopters equipped with buckets were based at Lemoore Naval Air Station and flew 181 sorties comprising 574 water drops (217,367 gallons) in support of ground firefighting crews. They flew missions against fires in Southern California, including the Oliver, Basin and Gap fires.
U.S. Northern Command, the unified command that coordinates civil support for the Department of Defense in the continental United States and Alaska, continues to provide resources to NIFC in support of wildland firefighting efforts.
Eight Modular Airborne Firefighting Systems (MAFFS)-equipped C-130 H3 aircraft continue to fly missions from McClellan Air Park, Calif., and, by mid-July, were averaging about 20 sorties per day. Three aircraft are from the U.S. Air Force Reserve Command out of Colorado, three are from the North Carolina Air National Guard's 145th Air Wing and two are from the Wyoming Air National Guard's 153rd Air Wing.
The MAFFS aircraft were requested in late June and by mid-July had flown more than 400 sorties and dropped more than 1 million gallons of retardant to support ground crews battling fires in Northern and Southern California.
In addition, U.S. Army North's Defense Coordinating Officer to the National Interagency Fire Center continues to advise on military capabilities and coordinate any additional requests for support.
The redeploying helicopters are:
Two CH-46Es assigned to Marine Medium Helicopter Training Squadron 164, “The Knightriders," and two CH46Es from Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 268, “The Red Dragons,” both based at Camp Pendleton, Calif.
Two CH-53 Sea Stallion helicopters of Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 465, “The War Horses,” based at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, Calif.
Two Navy Reserve MH-60S helicopters with specialized 420- and 360-gallon fire fighting buckets from the Helicopter Sea Combat Support Squadron 85 based out of Naval Air Station North Island, Calif.
U.S. Northern Command, established in the wake of the terrorist attacks of 9/11, is responsible for Homeland Defense and Defense Support of Civil Authorities.