Colorado, North Carolina-based Airmen arrive in Texas for firefighting support

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

AUSTIN, Texas - Airmen from units based in Colorado and North Carolina arrived Sept. 10 to Austin-Bergstrom International Airport to support Texas and federal agencies already battling wildland forest fires throughout the state.

The Airmen, deployed as the combined 302nd Air Expeditionary Group, were expected to provide aerial firefighting support to ground fire crews beginning Sept. 11. The Air Force makes use of the Modular Airborne Firefighting System, or "MAFFS", to deliver fire retardant to affected areas.

"This has been a very active fire season," said Lt. Col. David Condit, 302nd AEG deputy commander. "We exceeded our annual average of fire missions two months ago, and this is now becoming one of the most active fire seasons we have faced."

Earlier this year, Airmen from both states were deployed to Dyess Air Force Base west of Abilene, Texas. There, Airmen flew 81 missions and dropped more than 240,000 gallons of fire retardant, supporting containment efforts on the ground. Those fires resulted in 2.2 million acres burned, killing two people and destroying more than 750 structures.

Maj. Fritz Wilde, 731st Air Expeditionary Squadron commander in charge of MAFFS operations at the Austin airport, said the deployed Airmen were ready to meet any challenge and combat any fire.

"Every year, Airmen receive certification from the U.S. Forest Service to perform this mission, and these Airmen are ready for it," Wilde said. "Working together with our Forest Service counterparts, we're ready to provide needed support to Texas."

As of Sept. 11, the 302nd AEG had assigned six C-130 Hercules aircraft and more than 90 Airmen with personnel and aircraft based in Texas and Idaho. 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 are expected to be deployed in support of aerial firefighting operations until federal agencies deem them no longer needed.

The 302nd AEG is comprised of personnel from the Air Force Reserve Command's 302nd Airlift Wing, Colo., the California Air National Guard's 146th AW, Wyoming ANG's 153rd AW and North Carolina ANG's 145th AW. The 302nd, 145th and 153rd Airlift Wings are currently supplying the six MAFFS-equipped C-130s activated in federal status.