Air Force aerial firefighters launch missions from Austin

By Staff Sgt. Stephen J. Collier | September 12, 2011

AUSTIN, Texas - Airmen from Colorado and North Carolina launched missions Sept. 11 to provide aerial firefighting support to raging Texas wildfires.

The Airmen assigned to the 302nd Air Expeditionary Group, based at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport, started their aerial firefighting support here against Fire 574 in Harrison County. As of 4:30 p.m. Sept. 11, the fire, located along the Interstate 20 corridor near the Texas-Louisiana border, had destroyed a number of structures and was threatening 30 to 40 others.

In these missions, the 302nd AEG aircrews dropped approximately 6,000 gallons of fire retardant from U.S. Forest Service Modular Airborne Firefighting System-equipped military C-130s helping to contain the fire's path.

The MAFFS system is 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 here to assist with battling the worst wildfires in Texas history. In 2011 alone, 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.

Commenting on the start of MAFFS operations, Maj. Fritz Wilde, 731st Air Expeditionary Squadron commander, said he was confident in the Air Force's ability to provide significant help in working toward containment of the fires.

"This is what we train for," Wilde said. "Each of our Airmen is committed to bringing critical support to the ground fire crews to help them get the edge on these fires."

When asked about the support Airmen were providing to the protection of Harrison County, Wilde expressed his hope the C-130s and their crews could be helpful in supporting the firefighters on the ground in halting the fires from causing further damage.

"With operations now on going," he said, "we're supporting our (U.S.) Forest Service counterparts to help get these fires under control."

Currently, the 302nd AEG had 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.