Military aerial firefighting units, including the “High Rollers” of the Nevada Air National Guard, have dropped more than 1 million gallons of fire retardant so far this fire season.
“It’s very rewarding knowing you are helping so many people,” said Tech. Sgt. Paul Teska, a MAFFS flight engineer with the 152nd Airlift Wing, Nevada Air National Guard, and a former wildland firefighter. “I remember being on the ground, looking up, and seeing the planes dropping retardant. Being a part of the machine that is MAFFS, and just firefighting in general, is a great feeling.”
Aircrews and C-130 aircraft equipped with USDA Forest Service-provided Modular Airborne Fire Fighting Systems activated in late July to help combat fires in California. The devastating 2020 fire season has resulted in the High Rollers having their longest activation since beginning the MAFFS mission in 2016.
During this record-setting fire season, the 152nd MAFFS unit has flown more than 110 sorties and dropped more than 300,000 gallons of retardant on fires across California. These numbers will continue to grow as the unit is still helping to suppress wildland fires.
“We are grateful of the High Rollers’ dedication to our nation during a time of great need,” said Lt. Gen. Kirk Pierce, commander, First Air Force, Air Forces Northern. “They are performing a highly complex mission having to fly very low to the ground in mountainous terrain while dealing with poor visibility from smoke and flames. Their specialized training prepares them for such challenges.”
Air Forces Northern, U.S. Northern Command’s Air Component Command, is the Department of Defense’s operational lead for the mission.
In addition to training, relationships are key to the total team effort.
“All the support partners keep the mission strong and moving forward to include the Forest Service, CAL Fire, and the MAFFS units,” said Lt. Col. Erik Brown, 152nd Maintenance Group deputy commander and evaluator pilot with the 152nd Operations Group. “The support from these entities, and all the groups in the Nevada Air Guard, is instrumental to making the mission happen.”
MAFFS-equipped C-130 aircraft are employed for firefighting when civilian firefighting assets are at capacity. When deployed, MAFFS units stand by for a call from dispatch centers based on requests from civilian incident commanders. The flight crew responds to the fire using the air tanker to build lines on containment with retardant to help reduce the intensity and slow the growth of the fire.
This fire season has seen the need for all four military MAFFS units to fly missions: the 152nd Airlift Wing, the 302nd Air Force Reserve Command from Colorado Springs, the 153rd Airlift Wing, Wyoming National Guard, and the 146th Airlift Wing, California Air National Guard.
Firefighting assets across the country and internationally have come to aid in the fight against the unprecedented western wildfires.
According to CAL Fire, more acres have been burned in California in 2020 than any other year on record. The largest fire – the Creek Fire – has burned more than 300,000 acres.
“Our DOD team is extremely proud of their support to state and interagency wildfire operations,” said Pierce.