Austin-based Air Force aerial firefighters provide support to Harrison County fires

By Staff Sgt. Stephen J. Collier | September 14, 2011

AUSTIN, Texas - Air Force C-130s provided aerial firefighting support to northeast Texas for a second consecutive day Sept. 12, forming fire retardant lines in support of ground fire crews.

Aircrews and their four C-130 Hercules aircraft dropped approximately 12,000 gallons of fire retardant against Fires 262 and 574, both located within Harrison County. The fires, which had grown to more than 1,400 acres, were threatening to destroy 40 structures in the area.

The Airmen and the Modular Airborne Firefighting System-equipped C-130s are assigned to the 302nd Air Expeditionary Group, based at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport in Austin, Texas.

The Sept. 12 fire retardant drops against the Harrison County blazes bring the total MAFFS drops there to three after 6,000 gallons were dropped Sept. 11 in support of ground crews battling a fire along Interstate 20 just miles from the Louisiana border. Numerous fires throughout Texas are the result of 95 percent of the state being identified as having extreme drought conditions. Of those counties, 81 percent have been placed in the exceptional drought category, the most severe available.

Since arriving in Austin, MAFFS-equipped C-130s have dropped approximately 18,000 gallons of fire retardant.

The U.S. Forest Service MAFFS units are a self-contained, portable aerial firefighting system, which can discharge 3,000 gallons of water or fire retardant in less than five seconds, over an area one-quarter of a mile long by 60 feet wide. Once a load is discharged, the MAFFS system can be refilled in less than 12 minutes.

The Airmen and aircraft, assigned to the Air Force Reserve's 302nd Airlift Wing and the Air National Guard's 145th Airlift Wing, are deployed to the airport to assist with battling the worst wildfires in Texas history. In 2011, more than 3.7 million acres have burned in the Lone Star State with more than 5.1 million gallons of fire retardant already dropped.

The 302nd AEG currently has assigned six C-130 Hercules aircraft and more than 90 Airmen based in both Texas and Idaho.

For more information on fires throughout Texas, visit www.nifc.gov or www.txforestservice.tamu.edu.